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Death by corporate indifference

Who failed Brian Dalrymple, the American tourist who ended up dead in an immigration detention centre six weeks after landing in Britain? A report from Day One of the Inquest

Phil Miller
17 June 2014

Harmondsworth & Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centres (GoogleStreetview Sept 2012)

On 14 June 2011, a white American tourist called Brian Dalrymple landed at Heathrow Airport. It was to be a holiday from hell. Six weeks later he died in a British detention centre.

An inquest opened yesterday at West London Coroner's Court three years after the death of 35 year-old Dalrymple.

He was held at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow for 43 days, then transferred to Colnbrook, the neighbouring removal centre run by a different contractor, Serco. There he spent the last week of his life.

The coroner started the proceedings by telling the jury that their task was not to attribute blame, but to establish how and in what circumstances Dalrymple came by his death.

There are a lot of lawyers at this inquest, representing each of seven interested parties, none of whom want to be blamed for Dalrymple's untimely death: the Home Office, the NHS, and the five companies that run the detention centres and private health clinics that he encountered (or not) during his incarceration. These businesses include Serco, GEO Group, Nestor Primecare Services and The Practice PLC.

The Dalrymple family is represented, and Brian's mother listens via video link from America.

Brian Dalrymple.jpg

Brian Dalrymple (Dalrymple Family)The court heard more details about Dalrymple's time in the UK. He told British immigration officers at the Heathrow arrivals desk that he planned to visit Stonehenge, Scotland, Poland and Germany. He had a return ticket booked for 27 June, a fortnight later.

The officers could find no other documentation to support this itinerary and they were suspicious about his luggage.

Brian Dalrymple was travelling light. All he had was a small cardboard boxcontaining a coat, a cut-throat razor and $2000 in cash. He assured them he would keep the razor blade in the boot of a car while he travelled around Britain.

The immigration officers who questioned him at Heathrow found him "uncooperative". They noted his unusual behaviour. They were not aware that he suffered from an anxiety disorder and schizophrenia.

Brian Dalrymple was kept overnight at Heathrow and booked on a return fight for the following day. He refused to board that flight.

UK Border Agency officers then moved him next door to Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), which is run by the GEO Group, an American private prison company.

The court heard evidence from Marie Jugdev, the Home Office's deputy immigration manager at Harmondsworth in June and July 2011. In her two hours on the witness stand she showed little knowledge of what happened inside Harmondsworth. She spoke instead of "expectations" about what the contractors, GEO, should have done for the Home Office.

For instance, she said that GEO should have told her that its guards had seen Dalrymple over a period of weeks standing in the corner muttering to himself, urinating on the floor of his cell, throwing food and mentioning persecutory behaviour by the Black guards. But Jugdev says GEO did not tell her about this. She was aware that GEO kept detailed notes on detainees' behaviour, but this information was not shared with her, nor did she ask for it. (Ms Jugdev worked in an office at the Harmondsworth site, but she said it was not the Home Office's responsibility to observe the daily “operational” goings on there.)

GEO asked her permission for Dalrymple to be “removed from association”, for being racially abusive to staff and detainees as well as damaging “company property”.

Moving a detainee to a more restrictive regime is something that requires Home Office approval. Marie Jugdev signed the Rule 40 form that authorised an initial 24 hours of segregation, on 2.35pm on 24 July, a week before Brian Dalrymple's death.

Jugdev has no medical qualifications nor mental health awareness training. She did not meet Brian Dalyrymple before authorising his removal from association. In court she could not recall having met him at all.

A Chief Immigration Officer called Harold Henry, had met Mr Dalrymple weeks previously and was concerned by his behaviour, which included claiming asylum. Marie Jugdev said she did not think it a sign of mental illness that a white American citizen had sought asylum in Britain; she said lots of people claim asylum to delay their removal from the UK.

Harold Henry thought otherwise. He twice asked for a psychiatric and medical assessment of Brian Dalrymple. Although this request went to Marie Jugdev's team, she could not say if any of them had passed it on to the healthcare department at Harmondsworth, which was run by yet another company.

The assessment did not happen while Brian Dalyrymple was detained at Harmondsworth. Marie Jugdev said she “can remember a period of difficulties in getting healthcare staff”.

The Chief Immigration Officer was told that Brian Dalyrymple was "fit to fly". It was Home Office practice at that time that anyone was presumed fit enough to be deported unless the Healthcare staff told them otherwise. (Lately the Home Office has introduced more pro-active checks.) Marie Jugdev, who still works for the Home Office at Harmondsworth, said she has “more confidence now” that the healthcare arrangements at the centre are adequate.

An hour and a half after authorising Brian Dalrymple's separation, Marie Jugdev emailed the UK Border Agency manager at neighbouring Colnbrook removal centre, asking if they could “swap” Brian Dalrymple for one of their detainees. 

The Home Office apparently felt a “change of scene could benefit Mr Dalrymple”. Colnbrook, according to Serco's website is "built to a category B prison standard and is designed to manage the more challenging, higher risk and volatile type of detainee"

Jugdev's email had been prompted by a GEO manager who said that because Mr Dalrymple had been using the “N-word” it was risky putting him back on the wing. The email apparently raised no concerns regarding Brian Dalrymple's health. Marie Jugdev said a GEO manager had mentioned that Dalrymple had refused medical treatment, but she did not ask GEO what the treatment was for. Dalyrymple had been taken to Hillingdon Hospital on 16 July with hypertension and high blood pressure. He had discharged himself, against medical advice. (He would die from a ruptured aorta.)

On 27 July, Brian Dalrymple was transferred to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre. The court heard that Colnbrook is next door to Harmondsworth. Ms Jugdev estimated that you could walk from one centre to the other “in under a minute”, but detainees must be transferred in a vehicle. Colnbrook is run by another company, Serco. The Jury looked a bit confused by the Home Office's arrangements.

It was at Colnbrook that Mr Dalrymple died on 31 July, so this transfer process is quite contentious. Was Serco given enough information about Dalrymple's medical condition and strange behaviour? In court the lawyers for Serco and GEO became very interested in how Brian Dalrymple made this short journey from Harmondsworth to Colnbrook. Did GEO staff drop him off, or did Serco guards come to collect him?

Marie Jugdev said that Serco staff came to collect Mr Dalrymple from Harmondsworth but his medical records were not transferred as would normally be the case. Which of the Home Office's multiple contractors was responsible for that omission?

Some questions: Who failed Brian Dalrymple? Why wasn't he referred for appropriate medical care? How did the various companies interact? How well did the Home Office's representative understand, monitor and challenge the contractors' performance? The Inquest continues.


This is an adapted version of Phil Miller's original post on Corporate Watch.


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