Polish man dies after 'hanging himself' at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre

Exclusive: Death of 28-year-old man to be investigated by Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

Charlotte England
Saturday 09 September 2017 14:26
Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow, holds around 400 men
Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow, holds around 400 men

An investigation is to be conducted into the death of a Polish man following an incident at an immigration detention centre in west London, The Independent has learnt.

The 28-year-old allegedly tried to hang himself on the afternoon of Sunday 3 September at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre and was taken to hospital. The Home Office on Friday confirmed that a man who had recently been held at the facility, near Heathrow, died on Thursday in intensive care after life support was withdrawn.

A spokesman had previously denied any knowledge of the incident, which comes in the same week the BBC broadcast undercover footage showing the alleged mocking and "choking" of detainees by guards at another immigration centre.

SOAS Detainee Support (SDS), which organises visits to immigration removal centres around London, said several detainees reported the death to them earlier in the week.

“Multiple people that SDS are in contact with have told us that a man from Poland hanged himself during lock-up after lunch on Sunday [3 September], and was taken away in an ambulance," a spokeswoman told the Independent.

She added the incident had caused “unfathomable distress and anxiety amongst detainees in Harmondsworth and has contributed further to the creation of a toxic and harmful environment for the 400 men held in this centre".

She said: "Many SDS visitors have expressed strong concern regarding the people they are acting in solidarity with – some of whom have not slept or eaten properly since the harrowing incident on Sunday."

Medical Justice, a charity which works with detainees, also issued a statement, saying: "Clients have been calling us all week, traumatised by having seen what they say was a dead body, and terrified by their treatment and the conditions in immigration detention. Some fear they will die."

On Wednesday a spokesman for the Home Office told The Independent it was not possible they were unaware of the incident or had chosen not to release the details. “I'm not saying I don't know. I'm saying an individual has not died at Harmondsworth. There's a big difference,” the spokesman said.

But on Friday the department released a statement, saying: “We can confirm that a 28-year-old man recently released from Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre died in hospital after life support was withdrawn on Thursday September 7.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time. A full independent investigation will be conducted by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.”

SDS described the facilities, where people can be held for months or even years at a time, as "under the microscope this week" after the BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary on Monday which included undercover footage from Brook House detention centre near Gatwick.

The secret filming showed a number of incidents including one which saw a G4S guard allegedly denying urgent medical assistance to a detainee who was “chewing his face off”, while a third custody officer was filmed allegedly confessing to assaulting a detainee by banging his head and bending his fingers back.

In response to the BBC film, G4S suspended nine members of staff and started an investigation. Jerry Petherick, managing director for custodial and detention services, said: “There is no place for the type of conduct described in the allegations anywhere in G4S."

“Such behaviour is not representative of the many G4S colleagues who do a great job, often in difficult and challenging circumstances, across the country.

“Once we have seen the evidence and concluded the investigation, I will ensure that we take the appropriate action,". he added.

There were nearly 400 recorded suicide attempts at UK detention centres in 2015, and there have been 29 recorded deaths since 1989.

The Independent reported in January that the number of EU nationals held in immigration detention has increased five-fold since the Conservatives came to power.

Mental health problems in detention are prevalent, with isolation and uncertainty compounding trauma detainees – many of whom are asylum seekers – may have experienced.

“[Undercover] recordings shine a light on these spaces that are otherwise completely hidden," an SDS spokeswoman said. "What is hard to make visible is the isolation and desolation that detention system seeks to instil in people.

"Through physical segregation from the outside world, as well as the entrenchment of a culture of disbelief and suspicion regarding those who are detained, people inside are stripped of their agency and made to feel entirely alone," the spokeswoman added.

You can contact the Samaritans by calling them for free from any phone for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.

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