Harmondsworth: dying man was handcuffed at detention centre

Jan 16, 2014

Damning report reveals elderly, vulnerable men were restrained for no reason at privately-run facility

HARMONDSWORTH, a privately-run detention centre at Heathrow, has been accused of a shocking lack of humanity after a terminally-ill man was kept in handcuffs as he died, The Guardian reports. 

A doctor's report declaring the 84-year-old Canadian man was unfit for detention or deportation was ignored by the staff at the centre, the paper says.

The report on procedures at Harmondsworth, described as "damning" by Politics.co.uk, has been released by the chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick. Inspectors also found that people who had been subjected to torture were being held at the facility, a claim long made by anti-detention campaigners.

In his report, Hardwick says on at least two occasions, staff at Harmondsworth had needlessly handcuffed elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees in what he called "an excessive and shocking" manner. Both men were so ill that one died shortly after the handcuffs were removed while the other – an 84-year-old named as Alois Dvorzac - died while still restrained.

Harmondsworth, which is run by The Geo Group, is the largest immigration removal centre in the UK. Operated on behalf of the Home Office, it can house up to 661 single men.

In his report, Hardwick was also critical of security measures at the centre, saying they lacked "proportionality".

He wrote: "Segregation was being used excessively and was not in line with the detention centre rules. Disturbingly, a lack of intelligent individual risk assessment has meant that most detainees were handcuffed on escort."

The use of handcuffs at Harmondsworth was "grossly excessive", Hardwick said. As an example, he cited the case of a man who was in a wheelchair following a stroke, who was handcuffed on a journey to hospital, for no obvious reason.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said the restraint of a terminally-ill man "seems completely unjustified and must not be repeated". Harper said "clear instructions have been issued making clear that restraint should only happen where absolutely necessary."

A spokesman for Geo insisted that detainees were not routinely handcuffed when outside the centre. "However, where there is a documented risk of absconding, handcuffs may be used, balanced against a number of factors, including their age."

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