Immigration removal flight – efficient operation marred by use of restraint belts with little justification

Inspectors concerned about excessive use of waist restraint belts on an immigration removal charter flight in January 2018 found that escort practice on a flight two months later to France and Bulgaria had improved but was “still poor.”

A generally effective escort operation in March 2018 was “seriously marred” by the use “with little justification” of waist restraints on many detainees.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published the second of two inspection reports on Home Office ‘Third Country Unit’ immigration removal flights. Under international convention, detainees are removed from the UK to European Union member states for final determination of their asylum claims. The March operation involved 74 staff taking 23 detainees from centres near Heathrow to an airport in South Yorkshire for the flight.

The first inspection of a TCU charter took place on 17 January 2018. At that time, inspectors identified serious concerns about the excessive use of restraints. “During that removal, nearly all detainees were placed in waist restraint belts for the entire journey, usually without justification. We raised these concerns with the Home Office and its contractor, Tascor, shortly after the inspection,” Mr Clarke said.

“We conducted the (second) inspection…in order to establish what, if any, action had been taken to address the concerns that we had raised. We found that practice had improved but was still poor. Many detainees who presented little or no obvious risk were placed in belts, with little justification, and stayed in them for very long periods.”

Inspectors noted that 13 of the 23 detainees remained in waist belts until they reached their destinations, for up to 17 hours. “This seriously marred an otherwise generally efficient operation, in which inspectors saw some good practice”, Mr Clarke added: “Escort staff have a difficult role to perform, but there can be no compromise on their duty to treat detainees in a dignified and proportionate way while they are being removed from the country.”

One point of good practice was the effective use of telephone interpreters at Colnbrook immigration removal centre, with the result that detainees could express themselves and, in some cases, calm down. Use of force was lower at Colnbrook than at Harmondsworth, where telephone interpreting was not used.

Mr Clarke said:

“HM Inspectorate of Prisons uses independent human rights-based criteria to inform our judgements, and is not a regulator inspecting against self-generated policies. Regrettably, the Home Office responded to the evidence presented in our first report with an ill-informed defence. It soon became clear that senior managers were unaware of the shortcomings in their own internal assurance mechanisms. The complacency of this initial response has latterly been replaced with an acceptance of the evidence and an assurance that things will change. We will judge in due course whether this more constructive approach leads to better outcomes for detainees.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 24 July 2018, can be found here.
  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. The UK is party to the Dublin Convention, a European Union law that determines which EU member state is responsible for considering an asylum claim and allows member states to transfer an asylum seeker to the responsible state. The Home Office’s Third Country Unit (TCU) manages such removals to and from the UK. Many detainees are returned to third countries using scheduled flights, but in February 2017 the Home Office started to use charter aircraft to remove groups of detainees. This report covers our first inspection of a TCU charter removal.
  4. On 13-14 March 2018, 23 detainees were driven from Colnbrook and Harmondsworth immigration removal centres near Heathrow to Doncaster Sheffield Airport, escorted by 74 staff from Tascor (part of Capita plc) and flows to France (Nantes and Toulouse) and Bulgaria (Sofia) on a flight chartered by the Home Office.
  5. This is our second inspection of a TCU charter removal. Our first inspection of a TCU charter took place a short time before this one, in January 2018. The current report should be read alongside the report on the earlier inspection, when we identified serious concerns about the excessive use of restraints.
  6. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.