Review: Detention undercover

Ten police officers have been disciplined as a result of the BBC
documentary The secret policeman which exposed racist views and practice by
trainee police officers last year. In response to a similar programme last
week, 15 members of staff have been suspended from front-line duties by Global
Solutions Ltd, after they were captured on camera describing how to beat up
detainees and racially abuse them without getting caught.

Naomi Byron

Two undercover reporters worked for three months as employees of Global
Solutions Ltd (GSL), the PFI wing of Group 4. One worked as an officer in
Oakington Reception Centre, where asylum-seekers are detained immediately
while their applications are processed. The other was an escort, responsible
for moving detainees around the country and ensuring they are ‘removed’ from
the UK.

GSL receives millions from its government contracts to detain and remove
people under the immigration laws, including asylum-seekers who have been
refused and people who have overstayed their visas.

The programme was clear that many officers do their best to treat detainees
humanely in difficult conditions. However, Detention Undercover exposed a
minority of officers and escorts who racially abuse detainees, assault them
and trump up accusations in order to put them in solitary confinement.


One anonymous officer at Oakington said: "You haven’t heard this from me
but the guys in [the secure unit, which includes detainees on suicide watch],
they’re a bunch of fucking bullies – they shouldn’t be in there… very right
wing. They got put in there because they caused problems in Block 30 with
various racial allegations."

There was at least as much racism and more violence in the escort services:
"There’s plenty goes on. We’ve had… to knock seven kinds of shit out of
them…. you take a little bit of frustration out on them, but you be very
careful, know what I mean? You can tweak the irons, you can give them a bit of
pain… but on certain places, be very careful – when you’ve got immigration
around you, or airline reps."

This documentary was an important exposŽ of the reality of New Labour’s
immigration policy on the ground. Sadly, it has received little coverage in
the press.

GSL say they are "shocked" and "dismayed" and will make a full
investigation. Yet it’s hard to take them seriously when the "equal
opportunities" training for escorts/officers shown on the programme is as
inadequate as the training for police officers.

All they were told is that they mustn’t be caught using racist language –
nothing seems to be done to deal with the attitudes behind the language. As
one of the officers who made racist comments said: "Well that’s to cover their
arse, isn’t it."


Dealing with racism and prejudice in immigration staff is bound to be
difficult when the Home Secretary states publicly that he views some migrants
as a "burden" on society who should be "driven out". It is the Home Office’s
own policies and language that have encouraged and legitimised these abuses.

New Labour consistently scapegoats asylum seekers for the disastrous
destruction of public services caused by their own pro-big business policies,
leading to prejudice and resentment amongst sections of the population.

Privatisation – one of New Labour’s favourite policies – means that the
contracts for immigration escorts and detention centres are cloaked in
commercial secrecy and abuses can be blamed on the companies but quietly

The Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture reported a number of
cases of unlawful force used during attempted removals (see the socialist
issue 380), the Home Office agreed to install CCTV in all vans used to escort
detainees to the airport. What they didn’t say is that they only plan to do
this when the current contracts for escort services run out.