Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre, Harmondsworth - substantial concerns in a number of areas

The state of drift previously identified at Harmondsworth had halted and it was heading in the right direction, but substantial concerns needed addressing, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the immigration removal centre (IRC) near Heathrow airport.

Harmondsworth IRC, Europe’s largest immigration detention facility, holds up to 661 male detainees and is run for the Home Office by the Mitie Group. Since the start of a new contract in September 2014, both Harmondsworth and the adjacent Colnbrook IRC have been under the same management. The centres are now known collectively as Heathrow IRC. Its last inspection was in August 2013 when it was run by the GEO Group. Inspectors then were concerned to find that uncertainty about the future of the contract had undermined progress and created an atmosphere of drift which was having a negative impact on the treatment of and conditions for detainees. This more recent inspection found that many concerns identified in 2013 have not been rectified and in some respects, matters have deteriorated. The lack of investment in the last stages of the previous contract was evidenced by the appalling state of some of the residential units. The decline had been arrested by the time of this inspection, but the centre had not yet recovered and there were substantial concerns in a number of areas.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • nearly half of the men held said they had felt depressed or suicidal on arrival but despite an improved reception environment, early days risk assessment processes were not good enough;
  • some detainees were segregated for too long, and inspectors were not assured that this serious measure was always justified;
  • 18 detainees had been held for over a year and one man had been detained on separate occasions adding up to a total of five years;
  • the quality of Rule 35 reports was variable but nearly a fifth of these reports had identified illnesses, suicidal intentions and/or experiences of torture that contributed to the Home Office concluding that detention could not be justified;
  • some of the newer accommodation was dirty and rundown, and in parts of the older units, many toilets and showers were in a seriously insanitary condition and many rooms were overcrowded and poorly ventilated: although an extensive programme of refurbishment was underway, the centre should never have been allowed to reach this state;
  • there was little positive engagement between staff and detainees; and
  • despite some improvements in access to work, training and education, movements were still too restricted, which affected detainees’ ability to reach the available resources.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • use of force was not high, and it was subject to good governance;
  • the chaplaincy provided valued support for detainees;
  • the centre had substantially improved preparation for release and removal and engaged particularly well with some third-sector agencies; and
  • visits provision was generally good and many detainees received support from the local visitors group, Detention Action.

Peter Clarke said:

“While this report describes some good work, it highlights substantial concerns in most of our tests of a healthy custodial establishment. While the state of drift that we described in our last report has been arrested and the direction of travel is now positive, it is unacceptable that conditions were allowed to decline so much towards the end of the last contract. The Home Office and its contractors have a responsibility to ensure this does not happen again.

“Following the inspection, we were informed by the Home Office that lessons had been learned and that a new set of principles were established to prevent a recurrence of this situation. We will assess the success of these measurements in due course.”


Notes to editors:    

  1. Read the report.
  1. 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.
  2. IRC Harmondsworth accommodates adult men detained by the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement division.
  3. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 7-18 September 2015.
  4. Rule 35 reports disclose information on detainees whose health is like to be affected by detention or who may have suicidal intentions or been a victim of torture.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information.