Serco Staff Sacked Over Sex With Inmate

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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

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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.”

Ashfield – high levels of violence and use of force by staff

Ashfield Children

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a report to be published at midnight, says that in his final inspection of HMYOI Ashfield before it is re-roled from a juvenile institution to a category C adult male prison for sex offenders, he found there were high levels of violence, self-harm, along with high levels of force by staff in which two prisoners suffered broken bones.

Check back after midnight for full details of this shocking report.