Home Office refused leave to appeal in prisoner abuse inquiry

The Home Office has failed in a bid to challenge a High Court ruling over the terms of an investigation into alleged abuse at a scandal-hit immigration detention centre.

Two former detainees at Brook House immigration removal centre, identified only as MA and BB, successfully argued that a full independent investigation into “systemic and institutional failures” was needed “to ensure fact-finding, accountability and lesson-learning”.

Their case followed a BBC Panorama programme, broadcast in September 2017, which featured undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the G4S-run centre near Gatwick Airport.

The footage appears to show one detention custody officer holding MA down while whispering in his ear: “Don’t move you f***ing piece of shit. I’m going to put you to f***ing sleep.”

BB, who alleges that officers used excessive force on him after he threatened to kill himself, later claimed: “The abuse shown on Panorama wasn’t even half of what really went on.”

Fourteen members of G4S staff were dismissed or resigned following the broadcast, and the Home Office asked the prisons and probation ombudsman (PPO) to carry out an investigation.

In June, the High Court found that there was “a real risk amounting to an overwhelming probability that former G4S staff will not attend voluntarily to give evidence”, and ruled that “the PPO must have a power to compel witness attendance”.

Mrs Justice May held that “the egregious nature of the breaches”, which she said were “repeated events, in front of others, where the perpetrators were managers and trainers, as well as ordinary officers”, required the PPO to have such powers.

The judge also ruled that MA and BB were entitled to publicly-funded lawyers, saying: “When dignity and humanity has been stripped, one purpose of an effective investigation must be to restore what has been taken away through identifying and confronting those responsible, so far as it is possible.

“How is that to be done in any meaningful way here unless MA and BB, non-lawyers where English is not their first language, are enabled through representation to meet their (alleged) abusers on equal terms?”

On Thursday, MA and BB’s legal teams announced that the Court of Appeal had rejected the Home Office’s application to challenge Mrs Justice May’s ruling.

After considering the application without an oral hearing, Lord Justice Bean ruled: “I do not consider that there is any realistic prospect of success in the proposed appeal.”

The judge said it was “difficult to see how a satisfactory investigation could be carried out in the present case without the alleged perpetrators of the abuse being required to give evidence”.

He added: “The special investigation should be permitted to proceed without further delay.”

Following the High Court’s ruling in June, BB’s solicitor Joanna Thomson said in a statement: “The victims at Brook House suffered dreadful inhuman and degrading treatment.

“They have also suffered the injustice of the Government’s failure to hold an effective inquiry.

“This important judgment should now lead to an investigation that will uncover the truth so that there are no further abuse scandals in the UK’s immigration removal centres.”

MA’s solicitor, Lewis Kett of Duncan Lewis, said the June ruling “ensures that those officers can be held to account for their actions and that the PPO will be better equipped to get to the heart of why this happened and how to ensure it is never repeated”.

Last month, a National Audit Office investigation found G4S has made £14.3 million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018.

Following the revelation, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, accused the Home Office of a “shockingly cavalier approach” to sensitive contracts.

Ms Cooper said the NAO’s findings raised “serious questions” about the Home Office’s handling of sensitive contracts and claimed its monitoring should have picked up problems sooner.

She said: “For G4S to be making up to 20% gross profits on the Brook House contract at the same time as such awful abuse by staff against detainees was taking place is extremely troubling.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have noted the judgment and are considering next steps.”

harmondsworth IRC – Holding large numbers of Detainees with mental health problems in ‘prison like’ conditions.

harmondsworth immigration removal centre (IRC) at Heathrow, holding large numbers of men with mental health problems in prison-like conditions, continued to show “considerable failings” in safety and respect for detainees, according to prison inspectors.

publishing a report on an inspection in September 2017, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said a 2015 inspection of Europe’s largest immigration detention centre had highlighted concerns over safety, respect and provision of activities. In 2017, harmondsworth had made some improvements since then, “but not of the scale or speed that were required. In some areas, there had been a deterioration. The centre’s task in caring for detainees was not made any easier by the profile of those who were held. There was a very high level of mental health need and nearly a third of the population was considered by the Home Office to be vulnerable under its at risk in detention policy. The continuing lack of a time limit on detention meant that some men had been held for excessively long periods: 23 men had been detained for over a year and one man had been held for over 4.5 years, which was unacceptable.”

Inspectors found:

  • Worryingly, in nearly all of a sample of cases, the Home Office accepted evidence that detainees had been tortured, but maintained detention regardless. “Insufficient attention was given to post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems.”
  • While violence was not high, a high number of detainees felt unsafe. Detainees told inspectors this was because of the uncertainty associated with their cases, but also because a large number of their fellow detainees seemed mentally unwell, frustrated or angry.
  • Drug use was an increasing problem.

Mr Clarke said the governance of the use of force was generally good “and we noted that managers had identified an illegitimate use of force by a member of staff on CCTV cameras and dismissed the person concerned.” HMIP used an “enhanced” inspection approach, interviewing hundreds of staff and detainees to give them an opportunity to tell inspectors, in confidence, about any concerns relating to the safe and decent treatment of detainees. Neither detainees nor staff told inspectors “of a pernicious or violent subculture,” Mr Clarke added, though only 58% of detainees said that most staff treated them with respect, well below the average figure for IRCs. Both staff and detainees felt that there were not enough officers to effectively support detainees. Around a third of staff felt they did not have sufficient training to do their jobs well and few had an adequate understanding of whistle-blowing procedures.

Inspectors were also worried about the security regime. Mr Clarke said: “Some aspects of security would have been disproportionate in a prison and were not acceptable in an IRC…harmondsworth is the centre where, in 2013, we identified the disgraceful treatment of an ill and elderly man who was kept in handcuffs as he died in hospital. A more proportionate approach to handcuffing was subsequently put in place by the Home Office and followed by the centre contractor. It is with concern, therefore, that at this inspection we found detainees once again being routinely handcuffed when attending outside appointments without evidence of risk.”

Physical conditions had improved since 2015 but many areas were dirty and bedrooms, showers and toilets were poorly ventilated. Inspectors in 2015 raised serious concerns about bedbugs but they remained endemic in 2017. There were infestations of mice in some areas. Inspectors were also concerned that only 29% of detainees said they could fill their time while in the centre and many described “a sense of purposelessness and boredom.”

There were, however, some positive findings. The on-site immigration team made considerable efforts to engage with detainees, faith provision was good and complaints were managed well. The welfare services were impressive and there was positive engagement with third sector groups, including the charity Hibiscus Initiatives which provided support to many detainees before release or removal.

Overall, though, Mr Clarke said:

“The centre had failed to progress significantly since our last visit in 2015. For the third consecutive inspection, we found considerable failings in the areas of safety and respect. Detainees, many identified as vulnerable, were not being adequately safeguarded. Some were held for unacceptably long periods. Mental health needs were often not met. Detainees were subject to some disproportionate security restrictions and living conditions were below decent standards. It is time for the Home Office and contractors to think again about how to ensure that more substantial progress is made.”

Notes to editors 

 The report is available, from 13 March 2018, at https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

“Substantial Concerns” about Harmondsworth IRC says new Chief Inspector in his first report

Harmondsworth detention centre in LondonHolding detainees for up to five years, forcing them to endure unjustified long spells in segregation or to live in dirty and rundown accommodation are among the “substantial concerns” spotted in an unannounced inspection at Europe’s largest immigration detention facility.

In his first report since being appointed Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke said the concerns about Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), near Heathrow, cover “most” of the tests of a healthy custodial establishment and standards had deteriorated when it was still being run under a previous contract by GEO Group.

Mr Clarke said it was “unacceptable that conditions were allowed to decline so much towards the end of the last contract”.

The centre, which holds up to 661 male detainees, has been run for the Home Office by the Mitie Group since September 2014. Heathrow IRC is made up of both Harmondsworth and the adjacent Colnbrook IRC.

GEO Group were in charge during the last inspection in August 2013 where progress was undermined by uncertainty about the future of the contract leading to a negative impact on the treatment of and conditions for detainees, an Inspectorate of Prisons report states.

The unannounced September 2015 inspection showed that many concerns dating back to 2013 had not been rectified and in some respects, matters have deteriorated, according to the inspectors.

The appalling state of some of the residential units was a sign of the lack of investment in the last stages of the previous contract. Some of the newer accommodation was dirty and rundown, while many toilets and showers in the older units were seriously insanitary and many rooms were overcrowded and poorly ventilated, the report said. Widescale refurbishment is under way.

They were also concerned because 18 detainees had been held for over a year and one man had been detained on separate occasions adding up to a total of five years.

Some detainees were segregated for too long and inspectors were not convinced this was always justified.

Nearly half of the men held said they had felt depressed or suicidal on arrival but despite an improved reception environment, early days risk assessment processes were not good enough

The quality of Rule 35 reports, which gives information on detainees whose health is likely to be affected by detention or who may be suicidal or a victim of torture, was described as variable. Nearly a fifth of these reports had identified illnesses, suicidal intentions and/or experiences of torture that helped the Home Office to conclude that detention could not be justified, the inspectors found.

There was little positive engagement between staff and detainees and, despite some improvements, detainees still had problems in getting work, training and education.

Mr Clarke said “the state of drift that we described in our last report has been arrested and the direction of travel is now positive” but stressed that the ending of a contract should not also mean a drop in standards.

He said: “The Home Office and its contractors have a responsibility to ensure this does not happen again.

“Following the inspection, we were informed by the Home Office that lessons had been learned and that a new set of principles were established to prevent a recurrence of this situation. We will assess the success of these measurements in due course.”

The inspectors said the use of force was not high, the chaplaincy provided valued support and that the centre had substantially improved preparation for release and removal of detainees. The standard of the visiting system was applauded and many detainees received support from the local visitors group, Detention Action.

A GEO Group spokesman said: “We are not commenting on the report on Harmondsworth as GEO has not been involved in operating the centre since 2014. ”

Danny Spencer, an IRC managing director, said: “We are encouraged that the efforts of our people and partners have been recognised.

“The inspection also identified things we need to do better. We were aware of most of them and have been working on an improvement programme since we commenced the service. This has continued in the six months since the inspection, addressing the recommendations and the operational and cultural challenges that we faced as incoming operator.”

Eiri Ohtani of campaign group the Detention Forum said there was growing demand for a time limit to be placed on the period of immigration detention to bring the UK in line with other countries.

She said: “The responsibility for this deplorable neglect of the detention estate and those who are held inside lies squarely with the Government who has made little progress with detention reform.”

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.”

Death at Yarls Wood detention centre

Yarls-Wood

An investigation has been launched following the death of a 40-year-old woman at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire today.

The Home Office said the death was “sudden” and “unexplained.”

A spokeswoman from the Home Office said: “Sadly, we can confirm the death of a female detainee at Yarl’s Wood on March 30.”

“It would not be appropriate to comment further as the death is subject to a police investigation. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has been informed in line with standard procedure.”

Yashika Bageerathi, a 19-year-old-student who is awaiting deportation, has been at Yarl’s Wood since March 19.

She told Channel 4 news: “Today is just a bad day … Someone died in here. Everyone is sad. They just can’t believe it happened in here.”

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.”