G4S uses ‘unacceptable’ force on pregnant detainee at UK family detention centre

HM Inspectorate of Prisons report finds that G4S security staff at a UK Border Agency detention facility “deserve great credit”, despite unacceptable use of force on pregnant detainee.

A pregnant woman in a wheelchair was tipped up and held by her feet by G4S staff at Cedars, the Border Agency's ‘compassionate’ new detention facility. The incident emerged in the first report on Cedars by the Prisons Inspectorate who said the “substantial force” used against the pregnant woman caused “significant risk of injury to her unborn child”. At one point she fell from her wheelchair. Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick said: “there is no safe way to use force against a pregnant woman, and to initiate it for the purposes of removal was to take an unacceptable risk”.

Hardwick’s criticism is only the latest reputational blow to G4S, which has both the death of Jimmy Mubenga, and the botched Olympics security arrangements on its record.

Cedars opened in August 2011 in West Sussex as part of the coalition government's re-branding of child detention as “family friendly pre-departure accommodation”. The name Cedars is an acronym standing for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Respect and Support.

Several incidents in the report highlight the fact that Cedars — despite the decor and well-stocked play areas — is indeed a detention centre. More than half of the families held were arrested in the 'dawn-raids' that have been repeatedly criticised over years as unnecessarily distressing. Of 39 families detained at the centre so far, six have been subjected to forceful restraint, including against two children. In one incident an escort restrained a detainee by grabbing their hair. 

Though the report praises the healthcare in general, it notes 'limited' mental health provision. Access to a psychiatrist is available for only two detainees per week, hardly sufficient, since the maximum stay for families is in theory 72 hours, and no more than a week even in exceptional circumstances.

The Independent Family Returns Panel (an ‘independence’ challenged on OurKingdom), which is supposed to protect children’s interests, was shown in the report to be acting too slowly to perform its role. The report noted recommendations from the Panel that reached staff at Cedars after the family on whose case they were commenting had already been removed.

The report notes with apparent surprise that children became very distressed “despite anticipation of their needs and active management by Barnardo's staff”. It has long been established that detention is incredibly distressing and damaging for children. In truth the only surprise here is the expectation that having staff from a children's charity present would change that fact. (OurKingdom has reported on Barnardo’s involvement here and here).

Despite these damning revelations, the Inspectorate claims that the staff who run Cedars “deserve great respect”. The report praises many aspects of the centre, including the food, library and IT facilities available, and concludes that conditions and treatment at Cedars “exceed by some distance what families have previously experienced before removal”. Given the standards observed in previous reports, this should not be viewed as particularly high praise.

In short, children and families are still being detained by our government, whose promise to end this practice - made more than two years ago – remains broken.