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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Forced repatriation staff 'racist and unprofessional' (UK)

Private security guards removing detainees from UK used force and restraint unnecessarily, says prisons chief

Private security officers employed to remove detainees from the UK showed "a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude", using unnecessary force and racist language, according to the chief inspector of prisons.

In two reports Nick Hardwick said most guards worked sensitively but added that some had an "unacceptably unprofessional attitude", raising concerns about how they would react if a more serious incident occurred.

The reports are based on the findings of inspectors who accompanied 104 staff escorting 35 detainees to Jamaica, and 131 escorts who were removing 53 detainees to Lagos, Nigeria, in March and April this year. The flights were chartered by the UK Border Agency and private security firm G4S provided the guards.

Hardwick said some security guards on the flights raised tensions by using force and restraint unnecessarily, while others used "highly offensive and sometime racist language" when talking to each other.

"Inspectors were very concerned at the highly offensive and sometimes racist language they heard staff use between themselves," said Hardwick.

"Quite apart from the offence this language may have caused to those who overheard it, it suggested a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude that did not give confidence that had a more serious incident occurred, it would always have been effectively dealt with."

The flights took place six months after Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan deportee, died on a British Airways plane preparing to depart from Heathrow for Angola. Passengers on BA flight 77 in October later said guards forcibly restrained Mubenga, who had been complaining that he could not breathe. Three guards employed by G4S, which was contracted to escort deportees until May, were arrested over the case, and have been bailed to appear later this month.

Hardwick said some detainees were spoken to in patronising terms while in other cases guards used "extremely offensive racist language". One senior officer used "wholly unacceptable terms", including "gyppos", "pikeys" and "typical Asians", to describe minority groups, while others used crude national stereotypes.

Hardwick said: "This was not in the hearing of detainees, but it could be heard by other officers and communicated a disrespectful and racist attitude."

Handcuffs were used on detainees who appeared upset, or who were moving too slowly, despite there being no signs of any violent behaviour which might have justified the use of such restraints, the report found. The reports also questioned the decision to screen a violent film during one of the coach transfers.

The reports criticised the security team's uniform of "quasi combat-style clothing" and said not letting detainees close the door when using the toilet "was undignified and embarrassing".

Hardwick said: "Escorted removals are a difficult and distressing process. On these inspections, most escorts, most of the time, performed their duties well and dealt sensitively with the needs of individual detainees. However, tensions were sometimes raised when force or restraint was used unnecessarily and some staff demonstrated an unacceptably unprofessional attitude."

David Wood, the border agency's head of criminality and detention, said: "Those with no right to remain in the UK are expected to return home voluntarily. Where they do not we will seek to enforce their removal. Removals contractors operate within a clear legal framework and to exacting standards set by the UK Border Agency. We expect the highest levels of integrity from our staff and contractors and racist and unprofessional behaviour will not be tolerated."

The Guardian