A High Court judge has granted an application by the Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) practice on behalf of the Yarl's Wood women hunger strikers for an urgent judicial review into their allegations of inhumane treatment at the hands of Serco guards in the detention centre. The allegations centre on a incident during a peaceful protest on 8 February when they were attacked by guards, who locked them into a corridor without access to the toilet, water or medication. Serco's position on the incident is that its guards did not attack protesting inmates. Instead, its "staff intervened to prevent four women from continuing to bully other residents into missing meals."
The legal actions will also examine the general racist abuse and the squalid, prison-like conditions the the women and their children have to endure, often for months on end, without any indication as to when they might be released. And in the words of PIL solicitor Jim Duffy: "Serco and the Home Office will now be forced to explain in open court how the abuse and despair that these women and children have been forced to endure squares with national and international human rights standards. Given the evidence of a systematic disregard for human dignity, it will be a tall order." The human rights organisation Liberty has also been given permission to look into the allegations.
For those of you who have never heard of Serco, they are a private outsourcing company with a turnover of around £4bn and with their thumbs in a number of government pies, mainly in the criminal justice sphere. The company's chief executive is one Chris Hyman, a zealous Indian Pentecostal Christian from South Africa who tithes 10% of his income to his church. He also apparently survived the World Trade Centre attacks, an event which he claims reinforced his faith.
He claims that his company is run on ethical lines fully in accordance with his Christian beliefs and goes for contracts where "we can make a difference and make money." "This may not go down very well but I put people first, then customers, then shareholders. If [our] people are happy, everyone else is happy." So the company will obviously be defending their uniformed goons to the hilt. Just as it did staff members involved in the 2004 death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood killed himself after suffering painful physical restraint at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre it runs in County Durham. Or the HMP Kilmarnock staff who allowed a prisoner to die of meningitis in 2008 despite repeated pleas for medical assistance. Or the staff at HMP Doncaster that had prisoners routinely sleeping in toilets in conditions described as “squalid” in a 2008 report by the UK Prisons Inspectorate.
Public Interest Lawyers Press Release:
On 1 March, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) issued an unprecedented human rights case in the High Court challenging the indeterminate and inhumane detention of women and children at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre and at Holloway Prison. The case confronts the policy and practice of the Home Office and the private company, Serco.
Earlier today, the High Court confirmed that the case would proceed to a full hearing on an urgent basis. The Judge, Mrs Justice Davies, also granted permission to Liberty, a leading human rights organisation, to intervene in what will be an extremely important case in terms of holding the Government to account for the way it treats immigrants.
The allegations include the following:
That women and children have been held in squalid, prison-like conditions for between two weeks and one year without any indication as to when they might be released;
That detainees have been subjected to racist slurs by Serco staff who called them "black monkeys" and "Chinese monkeys";
That over 70 women were locked for several hours in a hot, airless corridor during a peaceful protest and forced to urinate and vomit where they stood. Several women collapsed but received no medical assistance, and a window was slammed on one detainee's finger, ripping her nail off. One of PIL's clients was beaten by guards using riot shields as she and 18 other women were detained outside in the snow for over four hours;
That terrified children were not treated for diarrhoea and locked in their cells for long periods, having been arrested during dawn raids and moved to Yarl's Wood in secured vans;
That one woman was held in solitary confinement for almost four weeks following a peaceful protest; and
That detainees have routinely had their legal correspondence opened and read by guards.
Today, Jim Duffy, a solicitor at PIL, welcomed the Court's decision:
"Serco and the Home Office will now be forced to explain in open court how the abuse and despair that these women and children have been forced to endure squares with national and international human rights standards. Given the evidence of a systematic disregard for human dignity, it will be a tall order."
For further information, please contact:
Jim Duffy or Phil Shiner on 0121 515 5069.