Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre 'needs more female staff' after detainee abused by officers

 

A controversial immigration detention centre needs to recruit more female staff “as a matter of urgency” following an incident where two officers sexually abused a female detainee, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said today. 

Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre was given an unannounced inspection following reports last month that a woman held at the secure Bedford facility had unwanted sexual contact with at least two male officers last year. Three officers have since been dismissed, though the third was sacked for failing to take action when the situation was reported to them.

The 23-year-old Roma woman, known as ‘Tanya’, has since been released and is living in Britain. Her lawyer said last night that she was expecting to start proceedings in a civil claim by the end of this week.

Almost nine in 10 of those held at Yarl’s Wood are women, yet around half of the staff are male. Female detainees reported to inspectors that they felt uncomfortable when male officers came into their rooms, often without waiting for a reply after knocking.

The centre, which can hold up to 400 people while they wait to be removed or have their case examined, is run by the private security firm Serco.

Refugee Council women's advocacy and influencing officer Anna Musgrave said: "Some of the findings of this inspection are shocking. Women in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable, with many likely to be victims of gender-based violence, so we're horrified to hear that male officers enter women's rooms without permission."

She added: “This report shows that urgent changes are needed at Yarl's Wood to ensure that vulnerable women feel safe and that their dignity is respected."

Detainees are now half as likely to report incidents of victimisation to the authorities than they were in 2011, according to more than 50 confidential interviews conducted with residents as part of the inspection. Two years ago, 48 per cent of those who felt they had been victimised by staff reported the incident. This year, the proportion was just 24 per cent.

Investigations into complaints were also sometimes conducted by extremely junior staff, the inspection found. In one case, a detainee had complained through her legal representatives of physical and verbal abuse by staff and the matter was only investigated by an “administrative assistant”.

Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick described Yarl’s Wood as a “sad place” for those incarcerated in it, saying at best it “represents the failure of hopes and ambitions, at worst it is a place where some detainees look to the future with real fear and concern.”

Speaking about the treatment of ‘Tania’, he said: “Two staff had engaged in sexual activity with a female detainee, which can never be less than abusive given the vulnerability of the detained population, and these staff had been rightly dismissed”.

The decision to hold very vulnerable people there was often “much too casual”, inspectors said. This included keeping eight pregnant women in the secure facility, “without evidence of the exceptional circumstances required to justify this”.

Many with serious mental health problems were also being kept there, even though they were often later sectioned and sent to a specialist hospital. In these cases inspectors said, “It was difficult to understand why they had been detained in the first place”.

Women with clear signs of having been trafficked - including one found in a brothel with no leave to remain in the country - were not being picked up and registered as possible victims. Details of suspected victims of the crime are supposed to be passed onto the National Referral Mechanism so they can be properly protected.

Inspectors also raised concerns that many women are also being held there “for very long periods”, including one woman who has lived there for almost four years.

Heather Jones of Yarl's Wood Befrienders said: “It is always distressing to meet vulnerable women who have been unable to access the help that they need. We continue to meet women who have clear mental health problems or are victims of trafficking or torture.

“These are people that The Home Office acknowledge should only be detained in exceptional circumstances and yet their detention continues indefinitely. We find the detention of pregnant women particularly deplorable.”

Chief Inspector Hardwick said: “Yarl’s Wood has had a troubled past, punctuated by serious disturbances and controversy surrounding the detention of children. This inspection found that the improvements we have noted since the detention of children ended have continued. Nevertheless, despite the good progress made, improvement continues to be necessary. Yarl’s Wood still holds detainees in the middle of a distressing and difficult experience and more thought needs to be given to meeting their emotional and practical needs. For the most vulnerable of the women held, the decision to detain itself appears much too casual.”

John Tolland, Serco’s Contract Director, said: “We are really pleased that this inspection report recognises the improvements Serco has made at Yarl’s Wood and considers it be to an establishment where residents feel safe and there is little violence. Our managers and staff have worked hard to establish and maintain good relationships with the residents, who are vulnerable people in the middle of a distressing and difficult experience. However we are not complacent; as the HMCIP Report says, we need to make further improvements, and we are already working closely with the Home Office to implement their recommendations.”

He added: “Serco absolutely refutes the allegations made that there is an environment at Yarl's Wood where sexual intimidation or inappropriate behaviour is in any way tolerated.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Detention is a vital tool that helps us remove those with no right to be in the country, but it is essential that our facilities are well run, safe and secure.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015