Home Office agrees to fit sprinklers at refugee detention centres

Ian Burrell,Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 26 February 2002 01:00

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, finally agreed to have sprinkler systems fitted at immigration detention centres yesterday as he admitted that 22 asylum-seekers were still at large after escaping a fire at the Home Office's flagship unit.

Mr Blunkett said he had ordered an investigation into the fires and rioting that caused £38m of damage at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre near Bedford earlier this month.

Bedfordshire Fire Service recommended the installation of a sprinkler system when the centre was built but was ignored by the Home Office.

In the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Blunkett said the decision not to fit sprinklers was "informed by advice from a number of different expert sources" but events had shown that such "precautionary measures" were now necessary. He said he had therefore decided to install sprinklers in all removal centres.

Mr Blunkett told MPs that 22 of the 40 escapees from Yarl's Wood had still not been traced 11 days after the riot. In another embarrassment for the Home Office last week, nine asylum seekers went on the run after scaling the fence at the secure Harmondsworth centre, near Heathrow airport, west London, and have not been traced.

The Home Secretary said his response would be to introduce harsher facilities at the centres. But John Wadham, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "Rather than punishing everyone for the actions of a few, surely the Home Secretary should be looking at the causes of such discontent with the Yarl's Wood regime."

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