Immigrants are being locked away in cells for an extra two hours a day in Britain’s largest detention centre as part of a cost-cutting exercise, undercover footage reveals.
Covert filming in Harmondsworth detention centre also showed staff complaining of being at breaking point and having to work 13-and-a-half-hour shifts since being taken over by a new private contractor.
The footage was shot by a detainee for Corporate Watch on a secret camera, as part of a five-month investigation into Mitie, the outsourcing firm that took over Harmondsworth in September 2014 under a multimillion pound Home Office contract.
Home Office staff admit in the recordings that conditions in Harmondsworth are “shit”, and that detainees are not allowed to show what goes on inside the detention centre because the Government “don’t want the bad publicity that would entail”.
Another video shows a guard saying that the new Mitie management makes staff work more shifts and get less rest. He says of the impact of 13-and-a-half-hour shifts: “It’s just gonna break. There’s only so much people can take.”
Phil Miller, a researcher for Corporate Watch, said: “The Harmondsworth videos, coming straight after the exposé of Yarl’s Wood, reveal that the problems with immigration detention cannot be isolated to one centre.”
Mitie’s contract is worth £180m over eight years and involves merging Harmondsworth’s 615-bed facility with the adjacent Colnbrook detention centre to create space for 1,000 detainees.
Paul Morrison, Mitie’s most senior manager at Harmondsworth, is caught on camera telling detainees that they will be locked inside their cells for two hours longer at night. He justifies the change by saying they need more staff on in the day. A spokeswoman for Mitie said: “Detainees have significantly increased access to communal activities”, and a new games room.
The secret footage, broadcast on Channel 4 News last night, comes days after the programme showed a guard at Bedfordshire’s Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre calling inmates “animals”.
During the period covered in the Harmondsworth videos – October and November last year – 43 per cent of those exiting the centre were released rather than deported, according to the latest Home Office statistics.
A spokeswoman for Mitie said: “The centre is not at breaking point. We have implemented new working practices and shift patterns to meet the demands of the new contract. During the six-month mobilisation period prior to the contract transferring to Mitie we undertook extensive on-site consultation with all existing members of staff at the centre.”
A Home Office spokesman said: "The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance — we will accept nothing but the highest standards from companies employed to manage the detention estate.
"Channel 4’s reports this week have raised a number of serious allegations about the conduct of staff employed by detention estate contractors. We expect all of the companies concerned to carry out thorough and immediate investigations into these allegations and we will not hesitate to take whatever action we think appropriate in response."