Detainees under escort: inspection of escort and removals to Nigeria and Ghana - limited improvements

The removal of detainees is distressing and stressful for those involved, and although some improvements had been made, no progress had been made on some of the recommendations from previous escort inspections, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, today as he published the report of a follow-up inspection of escort and removals of detainees to Nigeria and Ghana.

The report describes the realities of the removal process and the distress involved for some detainees undergoing removal. The cases described illustrate this, as well as the strain that can be placed on the professionalism of staff. This was the first time that inspectors have carried out a follow-up inspection of a charter flight removal to a specific destination and came two and a half years after the first inspection of a flight to Lagos. It provided an opportunity to follow up specific recommendations. Inspectors accompanied a removal by the UK of 41 detainees to Lagos in Nigeria, and one detainee to Accra in Ghana.

In these difficult circumstances, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • many of the escorting staff, especially those in leading roles, were experienced, calm and confident in carrying out their duties which helped to defuse tensions and allay the immediate fears of detainees;
  • many detainees were low in mood and a number of escort officers showed some skill in talking to them with sufficient sensitivity to help them cope with their situation;
  • detainees were given some information and assistance to prepare for their arrival in Nigeria; and
  • the health and welfare needs of detainees were reasonably well met.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • while there were some noticeable improvements, especially in the attitudes and language of escort staff, several recommendations have had to be repeated verbatim;
  • some ways of working had become entrenched with little justification, which included keeping handcuffs on for much longer than was necessary, holding detainees by the arm in secure areas and searching in locations without any privacy;
  • there were deficiencies in the recording and communication of information about risk, which is essential when detainees are being passed from the care of one contractor to another during a stressful series of events;
  • although staff were calm and confident in dealing with a detainee who physically resisted throughout the journey, they had to improvise their methods because of the lack of accredited techniques or training for use of physical restraint in the confined space of a coach or aircraft; and
  • a lack of co-ordination and of clear systems of decision-making led to a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation when a detainee was handed over to local officials in Lagos.

Nick Hardwick said:

‘This is the first time that we have carried out a follow-up inspection of a charter flight removal to a specific destination. While there were some noticeable improvements, especially in the attitudes and language of escort staff, several of our recommendations have had to be repeated verbatim this time. It is concerning that there was a sustained disagreement over what should happen to a physically recalcitrant detainee before, during and after her forcible removal from the aircraft.’

Notes to Editors
  1. Read the report.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This follow-up inspection was carried out from 6-7 November 2013.
  4. Inspectors accompanied a charter flight removal of 42 detainees. The aircraft went first to Lagos, Nigeria, the final destination of all but one of the detainees. The aircraft went on to Accra, Ghana, as one detainee was bound for Sierra Leone. Inspectors also reviewed records of the previous three charter flights to Lagos. The entire removal process was inspected, from the point at which detainees were collected from immigration removal centres, to the end of the journey to the destination country.
  5. The aircraft was chartered by the Home Office and Tascor were contracted to carry out the removals.
  6. Please contact Jane Parsons in HMI Prisons Press Office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.