84-year-old dementia patient died in handcuffs at immigration detention centre

The Chief Inspector of Prisons said the system had "utterly failed" the "most vulnerable people in detention"

Kashmira Gander
Thursday 16 January 2014 10:57
Harmondsworth IRC in West Drayton, where inspectors have revealed that an 84-year-old immigration detainee - who was suffering from dementia - was taken to hospital in handcuffs and died while still in restraints
Harmondsworth IRC in West Drayton, where inspectors have revealed that an 84-year-old immigration detainee - who was suffering from dementia - was taken to hospital in handcuffs and died while still in restraints

An 84-year-old suffering from dementia who was detained at a privately owned immigration centre was taken to hospital in handcuffs and died while in restrains, a report has revealed.

Doctors said that the Canadian man, understood to be Alois Dvorzac, was unfit for detention or deportation after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but had spent almost three weeks in Harmondsworth immigration removal centre when he died.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, has said that some of the “most vulnerable people in detention” had been “utterly failed by the system”.

According to HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) the man’s death is one of a number of “shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost” at the centre run by contractor GEO.

HMIP published the report after an unannounced visit to the detention centre, near Heathrow airport, last year.

Other “shocking” cases include a victim in a wheelchair who was handcuffed on a journey to hospital for no obvious reason, and another of a man who was dying and remained handcuffed while he was sedated and undergoing an angioplasty procedure in hospital.

Inspectors at the centre also found that 11 detainees had been held at the centre for more than a year, including a man detained for almost two-and-a-half years, despite being willing to return to his country of origin.

The report also revealed a rise in detainees self-harming. Nearly 100 hunger-strikers were identified in the six months prior to the inspection, including failed asylum seeker Isa Muazu before his departure.

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In addition, HMIP described some of the rooms at the 600-capacity detention centre as overcrowded, dirty and bleak.

Ministers have said they will scrutinise the performance of GEO, a UK subsidiary of the US group of the same name, which also runs Dungavel House immigration removal centre in South Lanarkshire.

Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that vulnerable detainees at GEO run Harmondsworth centre had been "utterly failed by the system".

Mr Hardwick said that “there was some uncertainty about the future of the management contract”.

“The centre did not seem to be progressing and some services were being poorly managed,” Mr Hardwick added.

The report warned that a lack of risk assessments meant most detainees were handcuffed on escort. On at least two occasions, inspectors discovered elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, “needlessly handcuffed in an excessive and unacceptable manner”.

Inspectors warned insufficient weight was given to doctors' opinions as to fitness for detention.

Dementia sufferer Mr Dvorzac was not released despite being unfit for detention and no referral was made to social services to have his care needs assessed, HMIP said.

He was refused entry into the UK in January last year and, after a stay in hospital, was detained at Harmondsworth and declared unfit for detention a week later. A doctor’s note at the time flagged up that he “requires social care”.

An attempt to remove Mr Dvorzac was called off on 6 February after a doctor declared him unfit to fly and he was returned to the removal centre.

He was taken to hospital in handcuffs on the 8th, and returned to Harmondsworth before returning to hospital on 10 February. He had been in handcuffs for almost five hours when he died.

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman is preparing to investigate the incident but is awaiting confirmation of the cause of death. Inquest proceedings are being conducted by West London Coroner's Court.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said: “The use of restraint in this case seems completely unjustified and must not be repeated. Clear instructions have been issued making clear that restraint should only happen where absolutely necessary.”

A statement from private contractor GEO said: “Detainees are not routinely handcuffed when taken out of the centre.

”However, where there is a documented risk of absconding, handcuffs may be used, balanced against a number of factors, including their age.

“Managers have to use discretion to take difficult decisions and we have issued them with additional guidance,” the contractor added.

Additional reporting by PA

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