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Port detainees kept too long in poor conditions, watchdog report finds

The holding room at Felixstowe pictured during an unannounced inspection  Picture: HMI PRISONS

The holding room at Felixstowe pictured during an unannounced inspection Picture: HMI PRISONS

HMI Prisons

A pregnant woman was held for almost 28 hours with little meaningful contact, while others stayed in “filthy” conditions at Border Force detention facilities in Suffolk and north Essex, a report has found.

The family room at Harwich  Picture: HMI PRISONSThe family room at Harwich Picture: HMI PRISONS

A national inspection of short-term holding facilities found people held in poor conditions that embarrassed staff trying to deliver respectful detention.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons called the agency’s inability to identify how many facilities it ran or for how long detainees had been held – an “alarming” lack of oversight.

Inside the holding room at Felixstowe  Picture: HMI PRISONSInside the holding room at Felixstowe Picture: HMI PRISONS

However, overall, inspectors noted that staff were mostly polite, courteous and respectful.

A Border Force spokesman said: “We take the criticisms contained in this report seriously and work to make improvements is already under way.”

The adult holding room at Harwich  Picture: HMI PRISONSThe adult holding room at Harwich Picture: HMI PRISONS

HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited facilities at eight seaports and five airports in March, including the Port of Felixstowe and Harwich International Port.

The watchdog found poor conditions at most seaports and described Felixstowe’s as “filthy”.

A non-EU citizen was allegedly found in a Ford Transit at Felixstowe  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNA non-EU citizen was allegedly found in a Ford Transit at Felixstowe Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

While no facilities had on-site health care, Felixstowe was among the few to have access to paramedics, and the only port with its own ambulance service.

It was one of five ports with the “most severe approach” to giving detainees contact with the outside world, with the report adding: “This was an excessive restriction and not based on individual assessment of risk.”

The view towards Harwich port  Picture: CARL MARSTONThe view towards Harwich port Picture: CARL MARSTON

At Harwich, the average length of detention was 14 hours and 42 minutes but it was the only seaport with showers and a payphone.

It also appeared the most efficient facility at referring potential modern slavery victims to the national support system – accounting for almost two thirds of the 36 referrals from all sites.

Last year, a pregnant woman was detained for 27 hours and 45 minutes, with logs showing little meaningful engagement beyond the offer of food and drink.

Another woman, travelling in a family six months before the visit, experienced “avoidable delays”, despite her father informing officers she was three months pregnant and had been confined to a van without food for two days.

Staff waited two hours to call the NHS helpline and another hour to take her to hospital, where the pregnancy was confirmed before she was returned to the holding room for six-and-half hours before being released.

In another case at Harwich, social services took 10 hours and 30 minutes to attend a detainee claiming to be a minor.

Although a designated family room was available at Harwich, inspectors found it “grubby, small and stuffy”.

In the 12 months before the unannounced inspections, no written complaints had been submitted at any facility.

At Harwich, complaint forms were available in 20 different languages, but elsewhere, they were usually in English only.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said those detained at seaports were held in often very poor conditions after arduous and often dangerous journeys concealed in lorries and containers.

He said there was urgent need for a comprehensive national audit to assure all sites were identified, properly equipped and subject to consistent management.

A Border Force spokesman said an audit of all short-term holding facilities was launched last month to establish national standards and new processes for record keeping.

Border Force said individuals were only detained for limited periods of time, but that occasional extensions were due to factors beyond the agency’s control, including delays to removal or collection by third parties or other government departments.


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