Jackie Long, Job Rabkin and Lee Sorrell

Detention Undercover: Inside Yarl's Wood, Channel 4

In an exclusive and groud-breaking investigation spanning more than six months, Channel 4 News was the first news organisation to successfully go undercover inside Britain’s most notorious immigration detention centre.   Yarl’s Wood IRC in Bedfordshire holds up to 400 detainees, the vast majority are women facing deportation from the UK. For years, the centre, run by the security giant Serco, has been at the centre of claims of mistreatment of detainees. But despite multiple attempts, journalists had never succeeded in getting in.   A micro-camera kit was specially constructed to avoid detection from the considerable security measures in place. A team from Channel 4 News was close by at all times. The investigation uncovered:

  1. Racist and sexist and dismissive behaviour by some members of staff
  2. Detention of highly vulnerable people including the elderly and pregnant
  3. Appalling treatment of pregnant women including one who suffered a miscarriage
  4. A “culture of disbelief” among staff towards detainees with health issues
  5. Many incidents of self-harming by detainees
  6.  Issue of male officers intruding on women detainees
  7. Forced removals, including splitting a pregnant woman from her husband
  8. Issue of indefinite detention, including one woman who had been at YW for 3 years
  9. Worrying use of solitary confinement, restraint and violence against detainees

The impact of the investigation was swift and widespread in parliament and the media. Serco immediately launched an independent investigation, led by the eminent lawyer Kate Lampard, who had previously led an inquiry into Jimmy Saville. There was an angry debate in the House of Commons, with MPs of all parties condemning the conditions exposed by Channel 4 News. The Home Secretary Theresa May was accused of allowing the “state-sanctioned abuse of women.”  The Home Office said the issues raised in the report would be looked at by David Shaw, in a review of welfare in detention commissioned by the Home Office. As a result of the Channel 4 News revelations HM Prison Inspectorate sent inspectors into Yarl’s Wood in April for an extended period. Their damning report in August 2015 described Yarl’s Wood a “place of national concern”. It highlighted the plight of 99 pregnant women held at the centre and poor healthcare provision. It said Yarl’s Wood was “failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held.” In January 2016, David Shaw’s report into welfare in detention was published. It called for an “absolute exclusion” of detention for pregnant women, an end to detention of the vulnerable including the elderly and called for the government to bring an end to indefinite detention altogether. It called for big improvements to the healthcare provision and an end to the “culture of disbelief” among staff towards detainees with medical and mental health issues. It also said searches of women and women’s rooms should only be undertaken “in the most extreme and pressing circumstances.” At the same time, Kate Lampard published her report which was a direct response to our investigation. Her report said management, staffing levels and training at YW needed to be dramatically improved. It highlighted “serious concerns with staffing arrangements” and concluded there had been “serious incidents of inappropriate behaviour and individual cases of mistreatment and abuse of residents by staff.” She also found that there were weaknesses in the safeguarding of vulnerable detainees and urged Serco to address the problem. As a result of the investigation, 6 detention officers were suspended. Two were dismissed, and one resigned before the investigation took place. All staff at Yarl’s Wood were issued with body cameras to record and prevent abuse, and stair wells were boxed in to stop detainees from self-harming.

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