In October last year, The Independent ran a front-page article revealing 200 allegations of racist and physical abuse committed by British guards against failed asylum-seekers. Most of the cases involved abuse of immigrants during the process of being sent back to the countries from where they were fleeing persecution. The then Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) said it could not find evidence supporting such high levels of allegations and demanded to see all the cases so they could investigate. We agreed but said that permission first needed to be sought from the alleged victims and the groups representing them.
When the story was raised in the House of Commons, ministers defended themselves by accusing The Independent of failing to hand over full details of the claims. In short they were accusing us of exaggerating or inventing the story.
Since then, the Home Office's own audit complaints committee has confirmed the similar high numbers of allegations of mistreatment made by failed asylum-seekers. It also reported serious failings in the investigations carried out by the BIA.
In July, asylum groups and lawyers working for the victims of abuse were able to hand over a dossier of complaints which had now reached 300 cases, around 50 of which were suitable for investigation by ministers. Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons who read the report, said if only one of the allegations was proved it would amount to a "preventable national disgrace."