Asylum-seekers routinely mistreated, says prison chief

Asylum-seekers are subject to routine strip searches, are exploited by unscrupulous legal advisers and receive little help for mental health problems, said the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers.

Just 10 per cent of detainees at Haslar, the removal centre run by the Prison Service at Gosport, Hampshire, told inspectors they felt safe. All were strip-searched whether or not they were suspected of carrying drugs or weapons.

Lindholme at Doncaster, South Yorkshire, another Prison Service-run removal centre, also made routine strip searches. At Campsfield House, a privately-run centre at Kidlington, near Oxford, 12 per cent of detainees claimed they had been sexually harassed. Two other centres – Tinsley House, near Gatwick, and Oakington in Cambridgeshire – received better reports. But although Tinsley House was judged to deliver a "good standard of custodial care", it was criticised for its lack of welfare help, legal advice and information about detainees' cases.

Inspectors discovered that some detainees at the centres paid thousands of pounds to cynical lawyers "preying on their vulnerability". They concluded there was insufficient support for the mental health needs of detainees.

Ms Owers also criticised the amount of work officials had to do. She said: "We came across cases where detainees wanted to go home but the Immigration Service was unable to help them. This was simply due to the pressure of casework."

But Beverley Hughes, a Home Office minister, said: "A large proportion of the findings reflect only the comments of the detainees themselves." Her remarks were strongly rejected by Ms Owers.

Meanwhile, the Government backed off from controversial plans to house asylum-seekers at a converted hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent. The move came three months after a storm over plans to use the Coniston, the only hotel in the town, as a hostel for 100 asylum-seekers.

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