Days before his death, a frail old Canadian man slept on chairs in a Gatwick Airport holding room, a court heard yesterday.
Immigration officers told an inquest jury yesterday how a “frail”, “vulnerable” and “confused” Canadian man was held overnight at Gatwick Airport in January 2013 days before he died. Alois Dvorzak, 84, was trying to visit his daughter in Slovenia when he changed flights in London.
Senior Coroner Chinyere Inyama told the jury at West London Coroner’s Court: “This case revolves around Mr Dvorzak’s travel from Canada and arriving in this country. He became unwell and was admitted to hospital several times. On the third time he died.”
Dvorzak’s “last place of residence”, according to his death certificate, was Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, Inyama said.
There are five interested persons at the inquest: the Dvorzak family, who are not represented, and the Home Office, Hillingdon Hospital, and the government’s contractors Geo and Primecare, each of whom has counsel.
Victoria Pritchard, an immigration officer with the UK Border Force at Gatwick Airport, told the court that she asked Dvorzak about his onward travel plans and how long he would stay in the UK.
Dvorzak had landed on 23 January 2013, around noon, with 1,400 dollars in his pockets and no luggage. Immigration records allege Dvorzak told an officer that “he had escaped from a mental hospital”. Pritchard said: “He appeared very confused. He looked very old and he did look quite frail.”
Border Force staff were concerned about Dvorzak’s vulnerability. Dvorzak said he was taking medication “for his bones and he rubbed his knees”, but Pritchard “was not able to establish what medication he was on and he did not have any with him”.
Dvorzak was placed in a temporary holding area at the airport, run by private security company Tascor, whilst immigration officers called the Canadian High Commission to request contact details for his daughter in Slovenia. They called her twice but the phone number “rang out”.
The airport medical inspector, Dr Adams, saw Dvorzak on the evening of his arrival. Border Force staff were anxious to find accommodation for him that was “appropriate for his health and welfare”.
The UK officials rejected a suggestion by the Canadian High Commission to put Dvorzak in a hotel, because they felt he was not fit for travel and needed a place where he would be safe with a minimal amount of supervision.
Pritchard called social services who said they were unable to help without more information from his family first.
Border staff then considered putting Dvorzak in an immigration removal centre, specifically Tinsley House, which Pritchard said was “used for adults that were in better health than Mr Dvorzak … At that time because our immigration removal centres had an outbreak of chicken pox we would normally put people in there but my senior officer said we would have to leave him in the family room [at Gatwick airport] until the morning. There was a long row of seats. He was sleeping in chairs.” There was no bed in the holding room.
Graham Roots, an immigration officer at Gatwick who took over Dvorzak’s case on the morning of 24 January 2013 said it was a “fairly common occurrence to have people over night in the holding room”.
Roots said that “over night the Canadian authorities had provided us with details of a care home” in Canada. Staff at the home said that Dvorzak had been taken to a local hospital two days ago after he had “assaulted a member of staff” and they thought he was “having a mental breakdown”.
The care home sent Roots a list of Dvorzak’s medication, detailing 13 drugs. Care staff told Roots that Dvorzak “tended to act up and get frustrated easily ... Basically he is an old, rebelling man”.
Roots told the Canadian High Commission that Dvorzak was refused entry to the UK. The Canadians said he should either be put in a hotel or sectioned in hospital until he was fit to be sent back. Dr Adams made a further assessment of Dvorzak because he was refusing to eat anything, and Roots said he still appeared confused and vulnerable. The doctor sent Dvorzak for a formal assessment at East Surrey Hospital.
However, Roots claims that staff at the hospital contacted him just hours later to say that Dvorzak was fit to fly and could be detained. No medicines were needed and he had capacity to make his own decisions. Roots said he found this assessment “surprising”. Immigration officials decided that Dvorzak should remain in hospital until a place in detention became available.
The coroner read a discharge summary from East Surrey Hospital by Dr Babak Daneshand, a member of Dvorzak’s care team. Dr Daneshand had called a care home in Canada and was told Dvorzak had left or escaped after he was sent to Peace Heart hospital for a mental health assessment because he had been violent. The hospital had diagnosed him with dementia.
Daneshand said doctors at East Surrey were concerned about his frailty. Dvorzak had complained of chest pains but refused a blood test. Doctors found that he had acute coronary syndrome and had had a heart attack at some point. His mental capacity was assessed as “borderline”. However, after a further consultation on 26 January 2013, a cardiologist said Dvorzak could leave by air.
The inquest continues.