Chief Inspector of Prisons concerned over 'excessive' restraint in immigration removal flight

By agency reporter
May 16, 2018

Immigration removal escort staff used “excessive” restraint on detainees who were flown out of the UK to several EU countries, according to an inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) of one charter flight removal.

On 17 January 2018, 80 escort staff accompanied 23 people from two immigration removal centres (IRCs) on a charter flight from the UK to France, Austria and Bulgaria. All but one was restrained throughout the flight in a waist belt, which restricts arm movements and can hold arms clamped to the body in the secure position.

Staff had been given a briefing before the operation that “focused solely on control and not on detainees’ treatment or welfare,” according to inspectors, who noted: “Staff clearly thought they were dealing with a very high-risk group. However, the dire warnings they were given were not grounded in evidence.” Home Office notes on detainees from Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), near Gatwick, stated that most had no history of being disruptive and presented ‘minor or no risk to successful transfer’.

Many detainees were compliant throughout the removal, and “restraints in these cases were not necessary, reasonable or proportionate.” Inspectors were also concerned that escort staff “resorted to force and pain compliance too quickly without sufficient de-escalation” in relation to some detainees who resisted removal. Further concerns centred on the lack of interpreters who might have ensured detainees understood what was going on. Though some escort staff tried to engage with detainees to reassure them, most did not. A few staff spoke to each other in loud and jocular voices over the heads of detainees, sometimes using disrespectful language.

Publishing a report on a Home Office ‘Third Country Unit’ charter flight removal, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “We had serious concerns about the way that this operation was conducted, principally around the excessive use of restraints. Nearly all detainees were placed in waist restraint belts for the entire journey.

“The documentation and our own observations showed that, in many cases, restraints were not necessary, proportionate or reasonable. Detainees’ compliance was not tested during the journey, and restraints remained in place for longer than necessary. We regularly inspect other detention settings where far more disruptive and challenging behaviour is managed without such physical restraints.”

This is not the first time that such concerns have been raised, Mr Clarke said.  The volunteer-based Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which routinely monitors charter removals, had been concerned about a similar flight to Germany in June 2017. All 30 detainees were placed in waist restraint belts at the IRC from which they were collected. The IMB wrote to the immigration minister with its concerns about the blanket approach to risk. The minister acknowledged that: “Certain returnees were placed into waist restraint belts when their individual risk indicators did not justify such action.”

On the January 2018 removal, through London Biggin Hill airport, Mr Clarke said, “nothing had changed in the approach to the use of restraints.

“Escorts are provided with a range of equipment that is intended to make use of force as safe as possible when, according to a competent risk assessment, it is required. What we found at this inspection was pre-emptive and excessive use of restraints that was indicative of poor operational practice and inadequate management.

“On the evidence of this inspection, it would seem that operational practice is still falling short of the standards aspired to by the minister in response to the IMB’s concerns in 2017. Clearly, some senior-level intervention is required to ensure that the situation is rectified without delay. We will inspect more removals over the coming year, and it would clearly be a matter of serious concern if those being removed from the United Kingdom continue to be subjected to unjustified use of force.”

* Read the report A Third Country Unit removal to France, Austria and Bulgaria (published 15 May 2018) here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

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