Investigation At Yarl's Wood Detention Centre

3 March 2015, 12:28 | Updated: 3 March 2015, 12:30

Service company Serco has suspended one member of staff and been asked to carry out an immediate investigation after a TV programme went undercover at the Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre.

A Channel 4 News investigation revealed questions over standards of care and guards showing contempt for detainees.

The centre in Bedfordshire, which the company runs, has nearly 400 detainees.

Staff were filmed referring to the detention centre's inmates as "animals'', "beasties'' and "bitches''.

"Headbutt the bitch'', one guard says. "I'd beat her up''.

A guard is also filmed commenting: "They're animals. They're beasties. They're all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up. Right?''

Standards of care were also brought into the spotlight.

The investigation heard about a pregnant woman who collapsed in the facility's dining hall and was taken to hospital.

"They said she was bleeding,'' one officer says. Later in the conversation another adds: "The technical thing is no concerns were raised.'' The woman had a miscarriage.

The network interviewed a woman called Esther Izigwe, who was released from the centre at the end of January.

She had suffered years of sexual violence as a teenager in Ghana before fleeing to the UK. Already struggling with depression, she says her mental health deteriorated badly in detention. When guards said they were about to remove her by force to send her home she was desperate.

She says: "I started running then they started chasing me then she was like 'Esther please we need to go' and I was like 'I'm not going, I don't want to go'. Then she said 'you need to go' and then I stood by the stairs.

"I said 'if you come near me I will jump'. And then she still came and then I said 'one more step I will jump' and then she still tried to come in and then I jumped.''

A Home Office spokesman said: "The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance - we will accept nothing but the highest standards from companies employed to manage the detention estate.

"We have made clear to Serco and our other contractors that we expect them to conduct thorough and immediate investigations into all matters raised by this programme, and we will not hesitate to take whatever action we think appropriate in response.

"Serco has already suspended one member of staff, and we have asked them to accelerate their work to ensure that detention centre staff coming into contact with detainees wear body-worn video cameras.

"All of our detention centres are part of a regular and rigorous inspection regime operated by Independent Monitoring Boards and Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons. Lapses in standards, when they are identified, are dealt with swiftly and effectively.

"In addition, because of the seriousness with which we take this issue, the Home Secretary last month commissioned an independent review of detainees' welfare to be conducted by the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw.

"A sense of fairness must always be at the heart of our immigration system - including for those we are removing from the UK.''

Serco said it manages the centre on behalf of the Home Office but does not have responsibility for providing healthcare within the centre or for the transportation of detainees.

A spokesman said: "Serco works hard to ensure that the highest standards are maintained at Yarl's Wood. We recognise that the public needs to be confident that Yarl's Wood is undertaking its difficult role with professionalism, care and humanity. This is why we have asked the highly respected former barrister, Kate Lampard CBE, to conduct an independent review of our work at Yarl's Wood.''

James Thorburn, managing director of Serco's Home Affairs business, said before the programme was aired last night: "None of the Channel 4 footage has been provided to us, so I cannot know the entirety of what was said, but I would be shocked and angry if anybody we employ was talking about people in our care in a disrespectful or obnoxious manner.

"My feelings will be shared by the vast majority of our colleagues at Yarl's Wood who take their responsibilities very seriously and I am proud of the difficult work that they do. We will not tolerate poor conduct or disrespect and will take disciplinary action wherever appropriate.

"We work hard to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are maintained at Yarl's Wood and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons has found the centre to be a safe and respectful place.

"We are conscious that we are working in a particularly challenging environment at Yarl's Wood, looking after 300 women detained during the final stages of their removal proceedings.

"The public will want to be confident that Yarl's Wood is doing its difficult task with professionalism, care and humanity.

"Accordingly, we have asked Kate Lampard, who has immense experience and credibility, to carry out an independent review into our work at Yarl's Wood.''

Security company G4S looks after healthcare at Yarl's Wood.

A spokesman said: "While this resident's miscarriage was understandably a deeply distressing experience for her personally, we are satisfied that she received an excellent standard of clinical care from both G4S medical staff and the pregnancy unit at the local NHS hospital.

"We have already shared the conclusions of our investigation into this case with NHS England and asked them to independently review our findings.''