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15 September 2013, 11:00
A former detainee at the Border Agency Yarl's Wood detention centre - has claimed she's been the victim of abuse by staff.
The Observer has today reported solicitors helping the alleged victim - say after speaking to the woman - they think the behaviour by some staff at the Bedfordshire centre may be assault.
The report centres on a 23 year-old woman who was released from Yarl's Wood last March, describing having had sexual contact with three male guards. Tanja – not her real name – said attempts were made to deport her within days of her informing Yarl's Wood's management of the incidents. She also claims one security guard had inappropriate relations with at least four women.
Harriet Wistrich from law firm Birnberg Peirce, who is representing some of the alleged victims, said told the Observer: "The women in Yarl's Wood are some of the most vulnerable you can imagine. Many have escaped horrific abuse in their own countries; most are very isolated from friends and family. The state has a duty to investigate such serious allegations, but it has repeatedly failed. Now the government wants to remove legal aid altogether for detainees and foreign nationals, giving a green light to abuse at Yarl's Wood to continue." She said there was evidence of "systemic supervisory defects" in the management of the centre."
The Observer said Tanja had made further allegations to the solicitors Wistrich: "A lot of officers were taking advantage of the girls that were detained. They would promise favours or offer to make life easier, saying they would have more chance of winning their case or staying in the country."
A Home Office spokesman has told Heart: "We take the welfare of our detainees very seriously. Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls, but it is vital that these are carried out with humanity and dignity, and we are committed to ensuring that this is the case.
We expect contractors to maintain the highest standards. Any allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and, if necessary, they will be reported to the appropriate authorities, including the police.
We operate a comprehensive complaints system for detainees who feel that they have not been treated in accordance with our published operating standards."
John Tolland, Serco’s Director at Yarls’s Wood has told Heart: "Serco absolutely refutes the allegations made that there is an environment at Yarl's Wood where sexual intimidation or inappropriate behaviour is in any way tolerated. We have strict procedures for dealing with any such complaints and they are always fully investigated. We expect the highest standards of behaviour from all our staff and any claims of misconduct are treated extremely seriously.
On the occasion when an complaint of sexually inappropriate behaviour between staff and a resident was brought to our attention in 2012 the matter was properly investigated and the police were kept fully informed throughout. As a result three members of staff were dismissed."