Serco facing inquiry over claims of sexual assaults at Yarl's Wood detention centre

Outsourcing giant's handling of the case branded 'inadequate' by lawyers

William McLennan
Sunday 18 May 2014 05:41

Outsourcing giant Serco is to be investigated by MPs after it was forced to publish an internal report into claims of repeated sexual assaults at one of its immigration detention centres.

The confidential document revealed the company’s investigations into claims made by a female resident of Yarl’s Wood against a male employee and was only released last week after a four-month legal battle between Serco and The Guardian.

The claims made by a 29-year-old woman from Pakistan remain unproven following investigations by police and the Home Office, but Serco’s handling of the case has been called “inadequate” by lawyers and has led to calls for an external review.

Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said he would be calling senior Serco figures to parliament next month to explain their actions.

The Labour MP told The Observer: “These are shocking revelations and they demonstrate to me that an internal investigation is not enough. It's clearly the tip of the iceberg as far as these allegations are concerned and the way Serco has dealt with them.”

He added: “This is clearly a case where there are serious questions that remain to be answered.”

Former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken MacDonald QC said: “Here, the suggestion is that in the face of credible allegations that a member of their staff had committed repeated sexual assaults on an especially vulnerable inmate, Serco conducted an inadequate investigation in secret and then did everything they could to hide their findings from the public.”

Harriet Wistrich, the lawyer representing the alleged victim, said: “The failure of the investigatory process affects not only the complainant but all women detained at Yarl's Wood, since it allows abuse to continue and thrive.”

Norman Abusin, Serco's director at Yarl's Wood, said: “Sexual contact between residents and staff is always completely unacceptable. We view any complaint of this type of behaviour extremely seriously and have strict procedures for dealing with any such complaints: they are always investigated and the necessary disciplinary action is always taken, including informing the relevant authorities.

“Our managers and staff work hard to establish and maintain good relationships with the residents. The most recent HM Chief Inspector of Prisons inspection report, issued in October 2013, considered it to be an establishment where residents feel safe and there is little violence.

“However, we are not complacent and make continuous improvements to the services we provide.”

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