Outrage at asylum fire £43m claim

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ministers were caught in a fresh row over asylum policy yesterday when it emerged that Bedfordshire police are being sued for £43m in damages after a fire at an asylum-seekers' detention centre.

Ministers were caught in a fresh row over asylum policy yesterday when it emerged that Bedfordshire police are being sued for £43m in damages after a fire at an asylum-seekers' detention centre.

Insurers for the private security firm Group 4 have lodged the writ for damages using an obscure Act of Parliament from 1886, even though Group 4 is legally responsible for security at the Yarl's Wood centre near Bedford.

Bedfordshire police, the county council, and the local MP, Alistair Burt, accused the insurance underwriters at Lloyds of "outrageous" behaviour and said the action would be contested.

The writ was filed after Yarl's Wood, one of a network of new refugee centres, was destroyed in a fire and riot nine days ago. About 25 asylum-seekers are missing and thought to be on the run. Sniffer dogs are to search the ruins for human remains.

In a further breakout, another nine detainees escaped from Harmondsworth centre on Wednesday evening, after climbing from a second-floor window on bedsheets and scaling a 20ft perimeter fence.

Mr Burt, the Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, is to press ministers in the Commons this week to repeal the Riot Damages Act 1886, which allows the police to be sued for compensation if they fail to prevent "riotous or tumultuous" behaviour.

"People in Bedfordshire cannot understand the basis of this claim," he said. "The police were the last people to be responsible for Yarl's Wood. It's run by Group 4 on behalf of the Home Office – the police don't have entry there unless they're invited.

"What has happened is that an insurance company has found a smart get-out. They receive presumably large premiums in order to insure the place, and they've got a get-out-of-jail-free card signed by local taxpayers in Bedfordshire, and it's wrong."

Group 4, which also runs several prisons, denied it was responsible for the damages action. Calls to its executives were referred to Group 4's insurers, who then referred callers to their loss adjusters.

Comments