Detainees held in 'filthy' conditions
Report castigates dilapidated immigration removal centre and criticises practice of using punishment cells at a nearby prison
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Wednesday June 16, 2004
The Home Office admitted last night that troublesome detainees at a "filthy and dilapidated" immigration removal centre in Doncaster had been thrown into the punishment cells at a neighbouring prison without proper authorisation.
The immigration minister, Des Browne, promised the practice would end by October as a report by the chief inspector of prisons is published today condemning conditions at Lindholme, Doncaster.
Anne Owers, in her report on a follow-up, unannounced inspection in February, concludes that Lindholme is not an appropriate place to hold immigration detainees. She says there has been little improvement since her first snap inspection two years ago concluded that Lindholme was not a healthy establishment for detainees.
"Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the inspection was the filthy and dilapidated state of many of the communal areas. Paint was peeling, floors had ingrained dirt, and all of the telephone rooms - very important for detainees' contact with the outside world - were in a disgraceful state," said Ms Owers.
"Two lacked chairs, and all were covered in graffiti, among which staff had written up the Samaritans' number. Inspectors were so concerned that they took photographs of these areas. There had clearly been problems in managing the cleaning contract: but it was noticeable that, by contrast, the parts of the centre used by staff were in excellent condition," says the chief inspector's report.
Journalists shown around the centre yesterday said they saw peeling paint and chunks of plaster falling off the walls.
Lindholme is one of three immigration removal centres in England and Wales and holds 100 illegal entrants or failed asylum seekers in the weeks before their deportation.
Ms Owers said the former jail was still locked into a Prison Service culture, with a regime that fitted prison officers' shift patterns rather then the needs of detainees.
She also voiced strong concerns about the practice of using the punishment cells or segregation unit of the neighbouring prison to deal with troublesome detainees.
Last night, Mr Browne said that new procedures would ensure that Immigration Service officials oversaw the use of the punishment cells: "We are converting a room at Lindholme to use as accommodation for 'removal from association' which will be completed in October."
He said there was a new cleaning contract and the centre was due to be refurbished later this year.
But the Liberal Democrats and the Refugee Council criticised the Home Office's lack of action after Ms Owers's first report. Mark Oaten, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "Immigration detainees are not convicted criminals and should not be treated as such. This report shows that Lindholme is a prison in all but name, and one which would shame the mainstream Prison Service."
Tim Finch of the Refugee Council said: "It was always a mistake for Lindholme to be so closely located to a prison and it was highly likely the whole centre would operate like a prison."