Home Office deportation flights lacking in ‘common decency’ – report
A Home Office-chartered deportation flight is lacking “common decency” towards detainees who were restrained for up to 14 hours and refused privacy while using a toilet, an inspection has warned.
Waist restraint belts were still being used on co-operative detainees for “extremely long periods” on the flight to Nigeria and Ghana, the report said.
The longest time that a detainee spent in a waist restraint belt was approximately 14 hours, according to the Inspectorate of Prisons.
Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, said: “It is unacceptable that this problem continues to occur despite promises of remedial action.
“The unnecessary use of restraint continues to be a problem, and improvements are still necessary to promote detainee privacy and dignity at a time of stress for people being removed from the United Kingdom.”
Known as Operation Majestic, the regular charter is used to deport detainees from the UK.
In March Mr Clarke scrutinised the flight from Birmingham to Lagos and Accra for the fifth time.
Sixty-eight escort staff from Mitie Care and Custody removed 13 detainees to Nigeria and six to Ghana on the inspected flight.
Despite repeated recommendations, Mr Clarke’s report said “some standards of common decency were not met, such as allowing detainees to go to the toilet in private and providing pillows and blankets on a long overnight flight.”
Escorting staff continued to keep toilet doors slightly ajar when detainees used them, including for female detainees. This was observed at the removal centres, on coaches and on the aircraft.
This practice was not based on individual risk assessments and was an unnecessary intrusion into detainees’ privacy, the report said.
Paramedics at the removal centres also discussed some detainees’ medical needs in public.
Detainees faced long journeys and waiting times which “contributed to their stress during removals”.
The 19 detainees were collected from immigration removal centres in Colnbrook and Harmondsworth near Heathrow Airport, Yarl’s Wood in Bedford and Brook House near Gatwick Airport and then taken by coach to the flight.
Some of the staff were even sleeping rather than supervising the detainees, the inspection noted.
The report made recommendations for improvements, including telling Mitie staff should not sleep during their duties and should allow detainees privacy to use the bathroom.
Restraints should only be applied in response to “specific and present risks”, and only for the minimum amount of time, Mr Clarke recommended.
Earlier this year 15 protesters who prevented the take-off of a deportation flight from Stansted Airport were spared immediate prison sentences for an aviation offence.
The so-called Stansted 15 cut through the airport’s perimeter fence and locked themselves together around a Boeing 767 jet chartered by the Home Office to transport people from UK detention centres for repatriation in Africa.
Campaign group End Deportations said the concerns raised were the “rule, not the exception”, adding: “The chief inspector of prisons has criticised this time and time again and nothing changes.
“The flights and the hostile environment they are part of must end and people must be held accountable through an inquest into this brutality.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We only return those with no legal right to remain in the UK, including foreign national offenders.
“We review all removals where force is used to ensure that techniques are used proportionally, that they are justified, and are used for the minimum period required.”