HMP Doncaster – “A very poor prison, safety a major concern” say Inspectors

HMP Doncaster
HMP Doncaster

Safety was a major concern at HMP Doncaster and a lack of staff was contributing to problems, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the South Yorkshire local jail.

HMP Doncaster, which opened in 1994 and is managed by Serco, holds just over 1,000 adult and young adult male prisoners. At the time of the inspection the population had been reduced by 100 as part of a response to the difficulties the prison found itself in. A previous inspection in March 2014 found a poorly performing institution in a state of drift. This more recent inspection 18 months later found that many problems remained unaddressed and some had worsened, although the recent appointment of a new director had led to some improvements.

 

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • Doncaster receives new prisoners from the streets, with many pressing risks and needs, but its initial risk assessment remained inadequate and early days procedures did not focus sufficiently on prisoner safety;
  • levels of assault were much higher than in similar prisons and many violent incidents had resulted in serious injuries for staff and prisoners;
  • despite some efforts to understand these problems, initiatives to address violence were ineffective and investigations were weak;
  • the incidence of self-harm was very high and there had been three self-inflicted deaths in the previous 18 months;
  • despite the generally caring approach of staff, monitoring procedures for those at risk of self-harm (ACCT) were not good enough, support was intermittent and inspectors found too many prisoners in crisis left isolated in poor conditions;
  • staff on the wings were overwhelmed: there were too few staff and they did not have enough support;
  • security, derived from good relationships and interactions, was weak;
  • in the preceding few months there had been numerous acts of indiscipline, including barricades, hostage incidents and incidents at height;
  • drugs were widely available, and many prisoners told inspectors that new psychoactive substances were a major problem;
  • not enough was done to encourage good behaviour;
  • use of force and the special cell were high and increasing, but governance and supervision were inadequate;
  • environmental conditions throughout the prison were very poor, with filth, graffiti, missing windows and inadequate furniture in many cells;
  • health care provision had deteriorated; and
  • time out of cell for prisoners was erratic and poorly managed and although there were sufficient activity places for prisoners to have at least part-time work, training or education, these were still underused.

 

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there were many good staff trying to do their best, although professional boundaries were not well managed and there was a lack of challenge to poor behaviour;
  • there were early signs of improvement in the promotion of equality and the work with the 6% of the population who were foreign nationals was better than inspectors usually see;
  • for those who did attend education, the quality of teaching and instruction was generally good, as were standards of work and the level of achievement by prisoners; and
  • the quality of offender management was better than usual in local prisons and the delivery of resettlement services was generally good.

 

Martin Lomas said:

“Doncaster has been a more effective prison in the past and we saw some very good people during our inspection. However, this report describes a very poor prison. The relative competence of the learning and skills and resettlement providers did not compensate for the inadequate standards across much of the prison and the lack of staff was a critical problem. The director and his management team were not in denial of the difficulties and there was evidence that the decline was being arrested; the prison certainly cannot be allowed to get any worse.”

 

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“This is a disappointing report which reflects the considerable challenges Doncaster is currently facing.

“There have been a number of improvements since the time of the inspection, including an increase in the number of staff and the refurbishment of the prison accommodation.

“However we will continue to monitor the prison closely through a formal performance management process until the concerns highlighted by the independent inspectorate have been satisfactorily addressed.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 9 March 2016 at: justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Prison officer admits misconduct in public office

Mark Blake
Mark Blake

A former prison officer who leaked stories to the Sun about a Serco-run immigration centre in west London has pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office.

While working as a prisoner custody officer, Mark Blake, 42, from Slough, was paid nearly £8,000 for tips about the Colnbrook secure immigration removal centre in Hillingdon which resulted in 10 stories being published by the tabloid newspaper over three years.

As well as naming individuals including a 9/11 plotter, the articles highlighted issues with the way the centre was run with headlines such as “Wiis for foreign lags in UK jails”, “Gastrojail” and “We fund massages for foreign killers”.

Following a trial at the Old Bailey in March, a jury could not agree a verdict on whether Blake’s dealings with the Sun reporter amounted to misconduct.

The Crown Prosecution Service later announced it would pursue a retrial against Blake while dropping the case against his co-accused Tom Wells.

On the day the retrial was scheduled to start, Blake changed his plea to guilty after hearing that he may be spared jail to look after his two children.

colnbrook

Blake’s lawyer Graham Trembath QC had formally applied to judge Mark Lucraft QC for an indication on what the maximum sentence would be if the defendant changed his plea.

In his response, Judge Lucraft noted the impact of the harm caused by the stories was difficult to quantify although it did affect the reputation of Serco and the UK Border Agency and made external recruitment more difficult.

The court heard that Blake had admitted that his motivation was partly financial and partly public interest.

The judge also took into account various factors raised by Mr Trembath including the length of time since the offence and the fact Blake is the primary carer of his two sons, aged six and 13.

He concluded that ordinarily after a trial the maximum sentence would be 18 months in custody, but a guilty plea would reduce that to 15 months.

The judge told the court that a pre-sentence report would be needed to assess the impact of custody on Blake’s children which could provide “strong reasons” for suspending the sentence.

Blake, who sat in the well of the court, pleaded guilty to a single count of misconduct in a public office between January 2008 and December 2010.

He was granted conditional bail until sentencing at the Old Bailey on September 21.

Yarls Wood: “A Place of National Concern”

Yarls Wood
Yarls Wood

Controversial Immigration detention centre Yarl’s Wood has been labelled a “place of national concern” after a scathing report revealed conditions have deteriorated.

Inspectors found dozens of pregnant women have been held at the facility in Bedfordshire against Government policy, while some are being held for more than a year because of “unacceptable” delays in processing their cases.

In one case a woman had been held for 17 months.

The prisons watchdog also found the centre is understaffed and healthcare services have declined “severely”

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, called for “decisive action” to ensure women are only detained as “a last resort”.

He said: “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern. Other well-respected bodies have recently called for time limits on administrative detention, and the concerns we have identified provide strong support for these calls.”

Yarl’s Wood, which held 354 detainees at the time of inspections in April and May, has been beset by problems since it opened in 2001.

The last inspection in June 2013 concluded that the facility was improving, but Mr Hardwick said it has deteriorated.

The assessment by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found:

:: There are too many men working at the centre, which holds mainly women.

:: Care planning for women with complex needs is so poor that it put them at risk and pharmacy services are “chaotic”.

:: Staff entered women’s rooms without knocking.

:: Violent incidents have increased, with the number of reported assaults trebling in a year.

:: Almost half of female detainees (45%) said they feel “unsafe” due to the uncertainty of their immigration status, poor healthcare and having too few visible staff.

:: Four women reported instances of sexually inappropriate comments from staff, one reported “sexual contact” and one reported comments, contact and abuse in a survey. However, in separate interviews, no women said they were aware of staff being involved in any illegal activity of sexual abuse. HMIP said it did not find evidence of widespread abuse.

:: Most uses of force on detainees were “proportionate” but inspectors raised concerns about an incident in which an officer repeatedly struck at least two women with his shield as staff attempted to remove a detainee.

Inspectors raised particular concerns about the length of time some women were held for and the detention of vulnerable inmates “without clear reason”.

At the time of the inspection, 15 detainees had been held for between six months and a year, and four for more than a year.

Even though the Home Office’s own policy states that pregnant women should not normally be detained, 99 were held at Yarl’s Wood in 2014. Only nine were ultimately removed from the UK.

In the previous six months, 894 women were released back into the community – more than double the number (443) who were removed from the UK.

The report said this “raises questions about the validity of their detention in the first place”.

There were some positive findings. HMIP said the facility was clean, most detainees said staff treated them with respect, while recreational facilities and access to the internet were good.

Mr Hardwick said most staff “work hard to mitigate the worst effects of detention”, adding: “We should not make the mistake of blaming this on the staff on the ground.”

Maurice Wren, chief executive of Refugee Council, called for Yarl’s Wood to be closed.

He added: “The fact that people fleeing war and persecution are being locked away indefinitely in a civilised country is an affront to the values of liberty and compassion that we proudly regard as the cornerstones of our democracy.”

Serco, which has operated Yarl’s Wood since 2007, said it was “working very hard” to increase female staff numbers.

Julie Rogers, of Serco, which has operated Yarl’s Wood since 2007, added: “We are pleased that in (the report), they found that four out of five residents said that ‘staff treated them with respect’ and that they, ‘did not find evidence of a widespread abusive or hostile culture amongst staff’.”

John Shaw, of G4S, which provides health services, said the firm is “reconfiguring” the service to address a “growing number of more complex medical requirements” at the centre.

He said: “We have prioritised providing primary care and I am encouraged that inspectors have found that access to those services is good.

“There are now more GP hours delivered at the centre than ever before and no detainee waits more than three days for a non-emergency appointment.

“We are committed to working closely with the NHS to raise the standard of service at Yarl’s Wood and improve results for those who require medical care.”

An NHS England spokeswoman said it has been working closely with G4S to “ensure that rapid progress is made to achieve the high standards which we expect”.

She added they have “action plans” in place to address the concerns raised during a recent inspection and they will be reviewed in the light of the new report.

The NHS England spokeswoman added: “We are committed to ensuring patients can receive both the physical and mental health care they need when required at this centre.”

Yarls Wood high self harm

Yarls-Wood

Immigration detainees at the controversial Yarl’s Wood centre have required medical treatment after self-harming on average more than once a week in the last two years, official figures show.

The Home Office revealed that in 2014 there were 61 incidents of self-harm which required medical treatment, while in 2013 there were 74.

The revelation prompted warnings that immigration detention can cause mental illness and could lead to instances of self-harm among vulnerable inmates like survivors of torture or rape.

Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre near Bedford is run by Serco and houses nearly 400 detainees who are awaiting deportation, most of whom are women.

In March, Serco suspended two members of staff after a Channel 4 News investigation raised questions about standards of care at the centre, with one officer recorded saying “let them slash their wrists” and several others referring to detainees as “animals”.

The charity Medical Justice, which sends volunteer doctors to see immigration detainees and campaigns for the release of vulnerable people from detention, described the figures as “worrying”.

Emma Ginn, co-ordinator at Medical Justice, said: “These worrying statistics give an indication of how harmful indefinite immigration detention can be.

“Our volunteer doctors visit immigration detainees and have seen hundreds of cases of seriously inadequate healthcare.

“In many cases immigration detention exacerbates existing medical conditions and in some cases has been the cause of mental illness.

“There have been a number of fatalities including self-inflicted deaths and we fear that with no improvement in conditions there could be more.”

Tory MP for Bedford Richard Fuller said he wanted the Home Office to look at whether vulnerable asylum seekers who claim to have been tortured or abused should be housed in detention centres, even if they cannot prove their allegations.

He said: “It is fundamentally about whether places of detention are resulting in more instances of self-harm and whether there are alternatives that could be just as effective for removals but lead to less self-harm instances.

“Just because you cannot prove that you were a victim of torture or rape doesn’t mean it did not happen.

“This is an issue I would strongly urge the Home Office to look at.”

The figures were revealed by Home Office Minister Lord Bates in response to a written parliamentary question from crossbench peer Lord Hylton.

Lord Bates said: “Information is collated on the number of incidents of self-harm requiring medical treatment at Yarl’s Wood IRC. In 2013 there were 74 incidents and in 2014 there were 61.

“These are the number of incidents of self-harm requiring medical attention; they do not necessarily equate to the number of detainees requiring medical attention as one individual may have received medical attention on more than one occasion.”

Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a review of detainees’ welfare, which is currently being conducted by the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw and is due to report back in August.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said women who have been sexually abused, tortured or are pregnant should not be detained and called for an “urgent review” of Yarl’s Wood.

The Labour leadership contender said: “These figures are very disturbing and raise more serious concerns about the way Yarl’s Wood is being run. This follows allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, which have still not been investigated. The Government is overseeing the worst of all worlds in the asylum system – more people detained, and for longer, with fewer deportations. Too many women are left in a hellish limbo in detention centres.

Yarls Wood staff suspended after undercover investigation

Guards have been filmed making racist, sexist and threatening remarks at Yarl’s Wood
Guards have been filmed making racist, sexist and threatening remarks at Yarl’s Wood

A worker at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre has been suspended after a guard was secretly filmed calling inmates “caged animals”.

The investigation into the centre in Bedfordshire, which is run by private firm Serco, also raised concerns about self-harm by inmates.

The footage was filmed by an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News.

Serco said it had appointed former barrister Kate Lampard to carry out an independent review of its work.
Yarl’s Wood detention centre Yarl’s Wood is the main removal centre holding women and families facing deportation

The footage showed staff at Yarl’s Wood referring to inmates as “animals” and “beasties”.

One guard said: “They’re animals. They’re beasties. They’re all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up. Right?”

A Freedom of Information Act request by Channel 4 News revealed there were 74 separate incidents of self-harm needing medical treatment at the centre in 2013.

One staff member is recorded saying: “They are all slashing their wrists apparently. Let them slash their wrists.” Another adds: “It’s attention seeking.”

James Thorburn, managing director of Serco’s Home Affairs business – which manages Yarl’s Wood – said: “We will not tolerate poor conduct or disrespect and will take disciplinary action wherever appropriate.

“We work hard to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are maintained at Yarl’s Wood and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has found the Centre to be a safe and respectful place.”
Gates at Yarl’s Wood Serco confirmed it had suspended a member of staff

He said the independent review was needed because the “public will want to be confident that Yarl’s Wood is doing its difficult task with professionalism, care and humanity”.

Serco confirmed it had suspended a member of staff.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance – we will accept nothing but the highest standards from companies employed to manage the detention estate.

“Last month, the Home Secretary commissioned an independent review of detainees’ welfare to be conducted by former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw, but these are clearly very serious and disturbing allegations which merit immediate scrutiny.

“All of our detention centres are part of a regular and rigorous inspection regime operated by independent monitoring boards and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons.

“Lapses in standards, when they are identified, are dealt with swiftly and effectively.”

Serco criticised over Doncaster Prison

doncaster

A privately-run prison, HMP Doncaster, has been heavily criticised for locking up inmates in cells without electricity or running water for more than two days.

The prison, which is run by security giant Serco, is the latest jail to be slammed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) after inspectors found its “performance was in decline”.

The report comes as Labour hosts a summit in Westminster on what the party calls a “growing crisis in Britain’s jails”.

And it coincides with a troubling report from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman into self-inflicted deaths among young adult inmates, which found suicide risk assessments and monitoring arrangements were poor in too many cases.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, who is hosting Labour’s Prisons Crisis Summit, will tell the gathering of prison governors, officers and charities: “The Government pretends all is well in our jails. But there is a yawning leadership gap under David Cameron and Chris Grayling.

“The Tories are in denial about the scale of the crisis and offer no solutions to tackle the mounting chaos. We can’t go on like this. Five more years of the Tories risks five more years of failure.”

The event comes after a wave of bleak figures published by the Ministry of Justice last month revealed a leap in the number of on-the-run inmates in the last year, as well as an increase in deaths in custody and a rise in the number of jails considered to be ”of concern”.

HMP Doncaster was “experiencing real drift”, according to inspectors, as levels of violence in the prison were found to be up to four times higher than typically seen in similar jails.

Some “extremely violent” incidents had been referred to the police and there had been a recent incident where a wing had been damaged by fire and vandalism.

The report also revealed some prisoners had been locked in cells with no running water or electricity for more than two days and had spent only short periods out of the cells.

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: “Despite some positive features, Doncaster was a prison with much that had to be put right, some of it urgently.

“The prison was experiencing real drift and performance was in decline. Some staff seemed overwhelmed by the challenges confronting them and needed more support.”

Elsewhere, Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), examined 80 out of 89 self-inflicted deaths of prisoners aged 18 to 24 between April 2007 and March 2014 for his most recent report.

The Ombudsman found prison staff frequently placed too much weight on judging how the prisoner seemed or ‘presented’, rather than on known risks, even when there had been recent acts of self-harm.

In one case, an inmate with a history of mental health problems and previous suicide attempts discovered his girlfriend had ended their relationship and, on the same afternoon, a close relative had died. Despite this, his level of risk was not reviewed and two days later he was found hanged in his cell.

The report also reveals a fifth – 20% – of 18 to 24-year-olds examined had experienced bullying in the month before their death, compared to 13% of other prisoners.

Mr Newcomen said: “In our sample of 80 cases of self-inflicted deaths going back to 2007, challenging behaviour was common, with prison records detailing warnings for poor behaviour, formal adjudications and punishments for breaches of prison rules.”

The Ombudsman recommended prisons act more robustly to allegations of bullying, as well as more timely referrals for mental health treatment.

Labour’s Prisons Crisis Summit will be attended by prison governors, prison officers, former senior officials, charities, voluntary groups, police and crime commissioners and local authority representatives.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), said: “Serco took immediate action in response to the inspection findings – strengthening the management team, prioritising safety and implementing a comprehensive improvement programme.

“I am confident that these actions have addressed the concerns identified by (the Chief Inspector of Prisons) but we will monitor progress closely to ensure the prison is able to deliver its regime safely and securely.”

In response to the Ombudsman’s report, Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, which provides specialist advice to people bereaved by a death in custody, said: “These deaths are the most extreme outcome of a system that fails some of society’s most troubled and disadvantaged young people, many just out of childhood.”

She said the report “is yet more evidence of the fatal consequences of placing vulnerable young people in bleak and unsafe institutions ill-equipped to deal with their complex needs.”

Commenting on excerpts of Mr Khan’s speech on prisons, a Conservative spokesman said: “This is just political posturing from Sadiq Khan.

“What he won’t tell you is that prisons are now less overcrowded, there is less self harm and the level of assaults is lower than under Labour. And those prisoners most likely to reoffend will now get a year’s support when they leave.

“Of course there are additional pressures on prisons, because we have had to make realistic assessments to deal with Labour’s record peacetime deficit.

“That means they are going through a period of change. But we are managing these pressures and our prisons are still running safe and decent regimes.

“This means we can make sure those who break the law are now more likely to go to prison, and go for longer than under Labour. That is part of our action plan to make Britain an even safer place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “On the day that the Prisons Ombudsman reports on vital lessons that must be learned if we are to prevent further young deaths in custody, we hear from the Chief Inspector of Prisons that Serco-run HMP Doncaster is a vast, filthy, drug-ridden institution with grossly inadequate first-night arrangements and poor staff supervision where violence and self-harm are rife.

“In dangerous environments like this the weak, people who are mentally ill, those with learning disabilities and vulnerable young people, suffer the most. In under two years our prison system has become less decent, less humane and less safe.”

HMP Dovegate Therapeutic Community – Working Effectively to Reduce The Risk of Reoffending

HM Prison Dovegate - operated by Serco
HM Prison Dovegate – operated by Serco

HMP Dovegate’s Therapeutic Community was doing some good work with prisoners to reduce the risk they posed, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the facility at the Staffordshire jail.

The Dovegate Therapeutic Community (TC) is a distinct institution holding up to 200 men, contained within the larger HMP Dovegate. The main prison, a category B training prison, is inspected separately. Dovegate TC is based on the concept that democratic therapeutic communities, run by both staff and prisoners, should be central to the way the prison operates. Prisoners are given a real say in the day-to-day running of the prison and have far more influence over their experience of prison life than at normal prisons. This happens within the context of the usual security imperatives of a category B prison holding men on indeterminate or long sentences. Men arrive at Dovegate TC needing to be more open about their offending and related institutional behaviour and to being challenged by peers and staff within therapy and community groups. Often they have a history of serious violent offending, poor institutional behaviour and prolific self-harm.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • Dovegate TC remained a safe prison, with very few incidents and most day-to-day safety problems dealt with by the communities rather than by more formal processes;
  • support for the small number of men vulnerable to self-harm was good, as was support for men with substance misuse issues;
  • staff-prisoner relationships were very good, which underpinned much of the work being done;
  • time out of cells was good, but sometimes affected by problems in the main prison;
  • leadership of learning and skills was developing, but some elements of quality improvement needed to be fully embedded;
  • resettlement support was good and men were encouraged to address their risks of re-offending; and
  • some very good work was being done during therapy, but problems in delivering some key aspects of therapy risked undermining effectiveness.

However, inspectors had some concerns:

  • men spent their first few months on the assessment unit and they had little to do that was purposeful;
  • the lack of experienced TC members in the unit was affecting the transfer of some key elements of the TC’s ethos;
  • prisoners needed to feel confident enough to raise concerns in therapy about other prisoners’ behaviour, and this was not fully embedded, which needed to be addressed head on;
  • the focus of learning skills as complementing therapy needed to be better understood and supported by staff; and
  • the promise of the national integrated personality disorder pathways strategy had not yet been realised, which was a wasted opportunity to ensure men arrived at the prison at the right time, and that there was a structured plan for them to progress after completion of the programme.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Overall, Dovegate provided a safe, respectful but testing environment for the prisoners it held and the public as a whole benefited from its effective work to reduce the risk that they would reoffend after release. We identified some weaknesses, but we were reassured that management had already identified and begun to address most of them. This provided grounds for optimism that the good work of the prison would not just be continued but be enhanced.”

 

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:
“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has highlighted the good work at Dovegate Therapeutic Community.

“It is a safe prison that is working well to rehabilitate a complex population and reduce their risk of reoffending.

“The director and his team will take forward the recommendations made in the report as they continue to build on their progress.”

 

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 27 February 2014 at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmi-prisons/prison-and-yoi/dovegate

SFO Confirm Serious Fraud Investigation Into Both G4S & Serco

g4s_logoSERCOESCORT

G4S in 2012

  • £7.3bn turnover
  • Pre-tax profit: £516m
  • Quarter of turnover relates to government contracts
  • Half of business in Europe
  • Value of government contracts: £394m

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) says it has opened an investigation into the government’s contracts with G4S and Serco for tagging criminals.

It comes after an audit suggested the firms had been charging for tagging criminals who were either dead, in jail or never tagged in the first place.

In July, the government had asked the SFO to consider carrying out an investigation into G4S.

G4S said it would co-operate fully with the SFO investigation.

A spokesman for G4S said: “G4S confirms it has today received notice that the director of the Serious Fraud Office has opened an investigation into the ‘contract for the provision of electronic monitoring services, which commenced in April 2005, as amended and extended until the present day’.

“G4S has confirmed to the SFO that it will co-operate fully with the investigation.”

The audit by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, launched in May, alleged that the charging discrepancies began at least as far back as the start of the current contracts, in 2005, but could have dated back to the previous contracts in 1999.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the two firms that an independent “forensic audit” – a search for possible illegality – should be conducted, which among other things would need to examine email trails between bosses.

G4S was reported to the SFO when it refused to co-operate with this further audit, while Serco allowed a further forensic audit to take place.

In the course of the audit in September, the Ministry of Justice provided material to the SFO in relation to Serco’s conduct.

G4S made headlines after it failed to provide all of its contracted security guards for the London 2012 Olympics, prompting extra military personnel to be called in to fill the gap and leaving the firm with losses of £88m.

Serco Staff Sacked Over Sex With Inmate

Yarls-Wood

Two staff at a privately-run immigration removal centre for women in Bedfordshire have been fired for engaging in sexual activity with a detainee.

A third employee at Serco-operated Yarl’s Wood was also sacked for failing to take any action when the female detainee reported the two men, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said.

It was reported last month that police were investigating claims that a 23-year-old Roma woman who was held at Yarl’s Wood was subject to inappropriate sexual behaviour from guards.

But inspectors found no evidence that a “wider culture of victimisation or systematic abuse” had developed following the new allegations of abuse at the 400-bed centre.

Mr Hardwick said: “We were concerned to find that two staff had engaged in sexual activity with a female detainee, something that can never be less than abusive given the vulnerability of the detained population, and these staff had rightly been dismissed.”

Mr Hardwick added: “Yarl’s Wood still holds detainees in the middle of a distressing and difficult experience and more thought needs to be given to meeting their emotional and practical needs.

“For the most vulnerable of the women held, the decision to detain itself appears much too casual.”

Yarl’s Wood holds mainly single adult women but also holds a number of adult families and there is a short-term holding facility for adult men.

Inspectors concluded that more female staff were needed urgently as there were not enough for a mainly women’s establishment.

A number of women at the centre – where none of the detainees have been charged with an offence or held through normal judicial circumstances – were detained for long periods, including one for almost four years.

Elsewhere, the surprise inspection found pregnant women had been held without evidence of exceptional circumstances required to justify their captivity. One of the women had been admitted to hospital twice because of pregnancy-related complications.

And detainees who had clear human trafficking indicators – such as one woman who had been picked up in a brothel – had not been referred to the national trafficking referral mechanism, as required.

Refugee Council women’s advocacy and influencing officer Anna Musgrave said: “Some of the findings of this inspection are shocking.

“Women in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable, with many likely to be victims of gender-based violence, so we’re horrified to hear that male officers enter women’s rooms without permission.

“It’s particularly disturbing that officials are not even following current policy and pregnant women are being detained without any clear reason.

“Pregnant women with insecure immigration status already have high-risk pregnancies and we believe they should not be detained under any circumstances. There is absolutely no excuse for compromising the health and well-being of a mother and her baby.

“This report shows that urgent changes are needed at Yarl’s Wood to ensure that vulnerable women feel safe and that their dignity is respected.”

Rachel Robinson, policy officer for Liberty, said: “Revelations of sexual abuse and the unjustifiable detention of vulnerable women still cast a dark shadow over Yarl’s Wood.

“Attempts to avoid scrutiny and challenge via cuts to legal aid and the nasty Immigration Bill would deny more victims a voice and leave the Government that bit freer to act with impunity.”

John Tolland, Serco’s contract director, said: “We are really pleased that this inspection report recognises the improvements Serco has made at Yarl’s Wood and considers it to be an establishment where residents feel safe and there is little violence.

“Our managers and staff have worked hard to establish and maintain good relationships with the residents, who are vulnerable people in the middle of a distressing and difficult experience.

“However, we are not complacent. As the HMCIP report says, we need to make further improvements and we are already working closely with the Home Office to implement their recommendations.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The evidence of abuse at Yarl’s Wood is appalling. The Home Office and Serco have a responsibility to act much faster and much more effectively to stamp out abuse and make sure vulnerable women get the support and help they need.

“Yarl’s Wood is improving much too slowly.

“The Home Office has still not told us how long it knew abuse was taking place at Yarl’s Wood. Or why it is still failing to spot the signs of trafficking or of mental illness.

“The Home Office cannot shirk responsibility. Serco may run the centre but it is up to the Home Office to make sure people are being treated humanely, with proper procedures and training in place.

“I called on the Home Secretary last month to get the independent UKBA inspectorate to review urgently the operation of outsourced centres run by private contractors such as Serco and we have heard nothing.

“This report shows the Home Office are failing in their duties and the Home Secretary needs to put that right immediately.

“Our immigration system must be efficient, effective and beyond reproach – especially in how it deals with vulnerable people. There cannot be any place for abuse anywhere within that system.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Detention is a vital tool that helps us remove those with no right to be in the country, but it is essential that our facilities are well run, safe and secure.

“Safeguarding those in our care is our utmost priority and misconduct is dealt with swiftly and robustly.

“We are carefully considering the contents of the report and will respond to each of its recommendations in due course.”

Scandal-Hit Serco Chief Resigns

Christopher-Hyman-of-Serc-001

Serco chief executive Christopher Hyman has resigned, the scandal-hit services company has announced.

Mr Hyman quit as the firm attempted to rebuild its relationship with the Government following controversies over its handling of key contracts.

He said: “I have always put the interests of Serco first. At this time, nothing is more important to me than rebuilding the relationship with our UK Government customer.

“In recent weeks it has become clear to me that the best way for the company to move forward is for me to step back. I have been fortunate enough to have had the privilege of working at a great company with extremely talented people. I wish everyone at Serco the very best for the future.”

The firm faces investigation after the Government was overcharged millions of pounds for electronically tagging criminals and there are also allegations of potentially fraudulent behaviour in the management of its £285 million prison escorting contract.

Last month the Government handed material to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in relation to the security giant over the tagging scandal.

It emerged previously that Serco and rival G4S overcharged the Government by tens of millions of pounds for electronically tagging criminals – including for monitoring dead offenders.

G4S refused to co-operate with an audit and was referred to the SFO immediately, while Serco allowed a further forensic audit to take place.

In the course of the audit, the Ministry of Justice provided material to the SFO in relation to Serco’s conduct under the electronic monitoring contracts.

An audit by big four accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, launched in May, revealed that overcharging began at least as far back as the start of the current contracts in 2005 – but could have dated as far back as the previous contracts let in 1999.

Auditors discovered that the firms had charged the Government for tagging offenders who were back in prison, had had their tags removed, had left the country or had never been tagged in the first place but had been returned to court.

The shock revelations prompted Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to launch a Government-wide review of all contracts held by Serco and G4S.

In August this year police were called in to investigate fresh allegations, in relation to the prison escorting contract.

Serco employees allegedly recorded prisoners as having been delivered ready for court – a key performance measure for the contract – when in fact they were not, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

A Government spokesman said today’s announcement by Serco was a “positive move”.

He said: “The Government will take full account of all the changes Serco have made today. Whilst it is early days in their programme of renewal, this is a positive move by Serco and a step forward.

“In July the Justice Secretary announced that the Cabinet Office would lead a review of Government contracts held by G4S and Serco. That review is ongoing and will ensure Government’s contractual arrangements are robust and taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly, in a vibrant, competitive market for public services.”

Ed Casey, who led the firm’s Americas division, has been appointed acting group CEO but Serco’s board “believes it is appropriate to look outside of the business for a new group CEO”.

In addition to Mr Hyman’s departure, the company announced that its UK and Europe division would be split into two, with one part focused on dealings with Whitehall and the other on activities in the wider public sector.

The firm also announced measures to strengthen contract-level governance and transparency, the creation of a board corporate responsibility committee, formal ethics committees in the company’s divisions and full-time ethics officers.

Alastair Lyons, Serco’s non-executive chairman, said: “The decisive and comprehensive actions we have set out today, alongside the programme already under way, should leave no-one in any doubt about how seriously Serco takes these issues and our commitment to rebuild the confidence of our UK Government customer.

“Our focus now is on implementing these important changes that redefine the way in which we engage. We see an opportunity to take a substantial step forward in public sector outsourcing through an open, transparent approach to business with our customers based upon mutual confidence.”