Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, 2015. Demotix/Mark Kerrison All rights reserved.
An employee of the American prisons company GEO Group told a London inquest yesterday that it was a matter of “routine” to handcuff immigration detainees receiving treatment at an NHS hospital.
And a doctor at Hillingdon Hospital told the inquest: “We receive a lot of patients from detention centres and quite often they’re cuffed.”
The remarks came on the sixth day of the inquest into the death of Alois Dvorzak, an 84 year old Canadian whose handcuff and chain were removed only after he stopped breathing.
Dvorzak, a retired electrical engineer, was held at Harmondsworth, an immigration removal centre near Heathrow Airport then run by GEO Group, after immigration officers denied him entry to the UK.
The inquest jury at West London Coroner’s Court heard yesterday from Maxlimus Nagawa, a detention centre nurse.
Nurse Nagawa called an ambulance for Dvorzak when he complained of chest pains at Harmondsworth on 10 February 2013.
The nurse completed a risk assessment form, certifying that there was no medical reason why Dvorzak should not be handcuffed by security staff who took him to hospital.
Dvorzak was taken by wheelchair to the ambulance and handcuffed to a guard by a 1.5 metre “closet chain”. The cuff was not removed until after he stopped breathing at hospital more than five hours later.
Nurse Nagawa told the jury that she was wrong to state on the risk assessment form that the frail 84 year old could be restrained.
“I would have acted differently. I think it was an error in my judgement. He was an elderly gentleman and I think he wouldn’t have escaped.”
Nagawa said she spent less than a minute completing the risk assessment and that her priority was getting Dvorzak to hospital as quickly as possible.
Handcuffs and chain
Dr Andrew Greenland of Hillingdon Hospital told the jury that Dvorzak was in “handcuffs and chain” when the ambulance arrived there at 7.21am.
Senior Coroner Chinyere Inyama asked the doctor if he “expected patients from Harmondsworth to be cuffed?”
Greenland replied: “We receive a lot of patients from detention centres and quite often they’re cuffed.”
The jury heard from two Harmondsworth detention custody officers who guarded Dvorzak at Hillingdon hospital on the day he died. The officers worked for GEO Group, the American prisons company then running Harmondsworth for the Home Office.
One of the pair, Katerina Tanasan, told the coroner that it was “routine” for detainees to be handcuffed to her while at hospital and it had happened half a dozen times.
Tanasan said Dvorzak appeared “distressed” but not aggressive, when she took over the handcuffing duty from her colleague.
The coroner asked her if Dvorzak was “at risk of absconding or breaking away?”
“All I saw was an old man,” Tanasan replied.
“Did you think there was any risk of escape?” the coroner asked.
“No, I was surprised he was cuffed,” Tanasan said.
As Dvorzak lay dying in a hospital bed for almost five hours, Tanasan was attached to his arm on a “closet chain”. She explained: “It’s about a metre and a half. It’s quite long.”
Yasser Nasib, Tanasan’s colleague, said in a written statement that Dvorzak was “lying on the bed when his breathing slowed.” Nasib went on: “He became clammy at 12am. Tanasan asked me to find a nurse ... I found one within in a minute and they noticed he was not breathing.”
The restraints were removed only “when they realised he had stopped breathing”, Tanasan said. “We took the cuffs off straight away and he went out of the room for them to resuscitate him.” Medical staff attempted CPR six times. Dvorzak was pronounced dead at 12.30am.
Tanasan said she did not know about any guidance around handcuffing detainees. The Home Office says that since Dvorzak’s death it has re-evaluated its policy on restraints to carry a presumption against handcuffing.
The inquest continues.