Harmondsworth IRC

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Harmondsworth IRC is an immigration removal centre.


Harmondsworth opened in 1970 as a small detention facility near Heathrow airport. Over the years it has expanded and become the largest detention site in Europe.

It was initially run by Securicor. In 1988 Group 4 took over the management of Harmondsworth. The centre was run by Burns International from 1999 to 2001, before Sodexho subsidiary UK Detention Services (UKDS) started an eight year contract worth £180m in 2001. (In 2006 UKDS was rebranded as Kalyx). The Geo Group UK ran Harmondsworth from June 2009 until September 2014 when it was taken over by Mitie Care and Custody and 'merged' with Colnbrook IRC to form what is sometimes called Heathrow IRC.

List of centre managers

1970-1987 Securicor

Securicor ran Harmondsworth after it opened. In 1978, parliament was told that "Discipline is kept to the minimum necessary to ensure the safe custody of detainees and the trouble-free running of the centres. Detainees are informed of the facilities available for telephone calls, meals and medical care. Securicor staff are required to comply with any lawful instructions given by an immigration officer or the Home Office and are told that they must treat detainees with humanity, kindness, courtesy and sympathetic understanding. Securicor is responsible, under contract, to the Home Office for the performance of its duties in connection with Immigration Act detainees."[1]

In 1987, immigration minister David Waddington told Parliament that: "The estimated daily cost of detaining a person in immigration service detention centres, including Harmondsworth, is £115. This figure includes transport, escort and running costs, and the cost of employing staff from Securicor Ltd. The cost per day of detaining a person held under the Immigration Act 1971 in a prison department establishment, though not entirely comparable, is estimated at £34."[2]

1988-1998 Group 4

By 1988, Group 4 had taken over the running of Harmondsworth from Securicor. (These companies would later merge to form G4S).

In 1988, an MP asked "the Secretary of State for the Home Department:

  • "(1) what experience the company Group 4 had demonstrated in running a secure holding centre or prisons prior to being offered the contract for Harmondsworth holding centre;
  • (2) what procedure is followed to vet the staff of private security firms who work at Harmondsworth holding centre; and how these (a) were applied to Securicor employees and (b) will be applied to Group 4 employees;
  • (3) what measures will be taken to ensure that a smooth changeover of management will be secured at Harmondsworth holding centre when Securicor hand over the running to Group 4;
  • (4) what were his reasons for deciding (a) to terminate the contract between the Home Office and Securicor for the management and staffing of Harmondsworth holding centre and (b) to award the contract to Group 4;
  • (5) how many of those held at Harmondsworth holding centre have escaped in the time that it has been under the management of Securicor."

The immigration minister Tim Renton replied that: "The contract for the provision of Group 4 staff at the Harmondsworth, Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester immigration detention units was awarded to the company following receipt of competitive tenders. The decision took account of a number of factors, including value for money and a detailed evaluation of the company's ability to provide the high quality of service specified.

The nature of the contract is unique in the United Kingdom and only Securicor Ltd. has so far had direct experience in this area. But Group 4 is a company of high standing. The tendering exercise enabled it to demonstrate satisfactorily its ability to provide a reliable service. Both Securicor Ltd. and Group 4 Total Security Ltd are members of the British Security Industry Association which lays down rigorous recruitment and vetting standards. Both companies fully meet those standards, including the vetting of candidates over a period extending back 20 years.

A series of meetings has been arranged between immigration service officials and senior managers within both Securicor and Group 4 to ensure a smooth transition. These discussions and detailed arrangements are progressing well. Responsibility for managing the detention units will not alter as a result of the change in contractor; that will remain firmly with the Home Office.

In 1987, 78 persons absconded from immigration service detention units; in 1988 up to 31 October the figure is 75. Figures for earlier years are not readily available. These details were not included in the factors taken into account when awarding the contract of Group 4."[3]

1989 death of Siho Iyugiven

On 5 October 1989, Siho Iyugiven, "a 27-year-old Kurdish refugee burned to death after barricading himself in his cell at Harmondsworth. His asylum claim had failed and he was facing deportation. He and his cellmate went on hunger strike, barricaded themselves in and set bedding alight as a protest. Smoke detectors were not working, few fire extinguishers worked and there were no sprinklers. An inquest recorded a misadventure verdict", according to the Institute of Race Relations.[4]

1990 death of Kimpua Nsimba

On 15 June 1990, Kimpua Nsimba, "a 24-year-old Zairean man was found hanged in Harmondsworth, where he was detained because the Home Office could not find an interpreter. No one had spoken to him since his arrival over four days earlier. An inquest recorded a suicide verdict."[5]

1999-2001 Burns International

Burns International ran Harmondsworth from November 1999 to 2001.

2000 death of Robertas Grabys

On 4 January 2000, Robertas Grabys, "a 49-year-old Lithuanian was was found hanged in Harmondsworth on the day he was due to be deported. A report on his death criticised the company that was in charge of Harmondsworth at the time (Burns International). An internal Home Office inquiry found that the company did not have a formal policy to prevent suicides and that there was insufficient care. (His body was not found for over one hour as guards did not check the room, although he was known to suffer from a depressive illness.) An inquest recorded an open verdict."[6]

2001-2006 UK Detention Services

Sodexho-subsidiary UKDS started running Harmondsworth in 2001. It held 550 people, including children as young as 4 years old.

2001 detainee work scheme proposed

It was alleged at the time of commencing the contract that Sodexho planned for asylum-seekers at Harmondsworth to work for almost nothing so that the company could cut its operating costs. A Home Office document obtained by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, showed that the Government intended to suspend the minimum wage at Harmondsworth so that Sodexho could pay asylum seekers £12 a week, which works out at 34p an hour (92% below the minimum wage) to do the work of painters, cleaners and caterers. If they refused work but complied with an 'agreed activity programme', they would be paid £6. If they refused to cooperate at all, they would be given £4 for cleaning their rooms.[7] The scheme did not proceed at that time.

2002 escape

On February 22, 2002, The London Times reported that nine detainees escaped from Harmondsworth, breaking a window, scaling a 15’ fence and using towels to get over the razor wire surrounding the facility.[8]

2003 inspection and death of Olga Blaskevica

In a report that came out in March 2003, the prisons inspectorate expressed “deep concern” about detainees with mental health problems being held at Harmondsworth.[9]

On 7 May 2003, Olga Blaskevica, "a 29-year-old Latvian woman was murdered in the family holding area at Harmondsworth by her mentally ill partner, hours before the pair were due to be deported. In June 2004, Olegs Pavlos denied murder but admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was found to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia."[10]

An inspection of Harmondsworth made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in September 2003 said that:

"There were increasing levels of disorder, damage and escape attempts, with an average of seven assaults a week. In spite of an average of one self-harm incident a week, suicide, self-harm and anti-bullying procedures were not effectively managed. Nor was there sufficient mental health support for detainees held in the in-patient ward.” [11]

In conclusion, the report stated: “Harmondsworth, when we inspected it, did not meet three of our four tests for a healthy custodial environment.”

2004 death of Sergey Baranyuk and uprising

On 19 July 2004, a 31-year-old Ukrainian asylum-seeker Sergey Baranyuk was found hanged in a shower room at Harmondsworth. According to the Institute of Race Relations, "Staff at the centre and immigration staff had very little contact with him in the two months that he was held in detention. He had been assigned to the fast-track system and detained with no information for over six weeks despite having agreed to voluntary return three days after submitting his asylum claim. The inquest jury recorded a verdict that he ‘took his own life’. The PPO [Prisons and Probation Ombudsman] described the circumstances of his death as ‘sad and shameful’."[12] His death sparked a night of disturbances at the centre and all of the detainees were transferred out of the damaged centre.[13]

2006-2009 Kalyx

In October 2006, Sodexho changed the name of UK Detention Services to Kalyx.

2006 death of Bereket Yohannes, inspection, riot and fine

On 19 January 2006, Bereket Yohannes, "a 26-year-old Eritrean was found hanged in a shower block at Harmondsworth (run by UK Detention Services – UKDS). According to other detainees at the centre, he was fearful of deportation to Italy and found conditions at Harmondsworth ‘unbearable’. An inquest in March 2007 was told how he had previously tried to take his own life while he was held at Dover immigration removal centre a month prior to his death. The inquest jury found that he took his own life."[14]

In November 2006, a major riot took place at Harmondsworth, after the chief inspector of prisons issued her "poorest ever" report on a detention centre.

Four men were put on trial for conspiracy to commit violent disorder. The men became known as the Harmondsworth 4 by their defence campaign. In February 2008, a jury at Southwark Crown Court found them not guilty. "At the end of the trial the judge commented that ‘one might feel sympathy’ for people detained in immigration detention centres", according to the Institute of Race Relations.[15]

In December 2006, Kalyx was fined £5,096,000 by the Home Office for performance failures.

"Neither Kalyx nor the Home Office would be drawn on why the company has had to pay such a sizeable sum. But [Home Office minister Baroness] Scotland suggested it was at least partly to do with the company's failure to manage the centre properly.

She told the Lords that 'rigorous attempts to manage the situation in Harmondsworth' had now been put in place. 'That was the basis of the concerns expressed and of the disagreement... between management,' Scotland said. ... A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed Kalyx would soon be paying out. 'The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has been in dispute with HDSL (a subsidiary of Kalyx) over its contractual performance at Harmondsworth,' the spokeswoman said. 'The dispute reached mediation point in summer 2006 and reached an agreed settlement; the details of this are being finalised by lawyers with full completion anticipated by the end of this month.'"[16]

2009-2014 Geo Group

The Geo Group UK ran Harmondsworth from 2009 to 2014, in which time they expanded the size of the centre.

2011 deaths of three men shortly after leaving Harmondsworth

On 2 July 2011, Muhammad Shukat, "a 47-year-old Pakistani man died after suffering a heart attack in Colnbrook (run by Serco). In May 2012, an inquest jury recorded a highly critical verdict that found that neglect contributed to his death. According to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) report into his death, he was transferred from Brook House (near Gatwick) to Harmondsworth on 26 May. He was held at Harmondsworth for nearly a month, during which time he withdrew his claim for asylum and asked for assisted voluntary return. He was moved to Colnbrook on 29 June (at 1am) and died just a few days later. While he was held at Harmondsworth he made a complaint about the healthcare at the centre that was not followed up, staff at the healthcare unit also failed to obtain his medical records despite his written authorisation. These records ‘could have provided significant information that could have assisted healthcare staff [at Colnbrook] on the morning he died.’ The PPO made a number of recommendations following his investigation into Muhammad Shukat’s care at Harmondsworth, in relation to healthcare and the complaints process at Harmondsworth".[17]

On 31 July 2011, Brian Dalrymple, "a 31-year-old American man with significant health problems died in Colnbrook (run by Serco) a few days after being moved from Harmondsworth (which is next door to Colnbrook). In July 2014, and inquest jury recorded a verdict that Bran died of natural causes contributed to by neglect."[18] The jury found that, “throughout Mr Dalrymple’s detention at Harmondsworth medical record keeping was shambolic” and said neglect contributed to his death. Geo made a “significant” settlement to the Dalrymple family.[19]

On 6 December 2011, an unnamed homeless French man died in hospital after release from Harmondsworth. He died "after coughing up massive amounts of blood – as the result of a tuberculosis (TB) infection ... The PPO [Prisons and Probation Ombudsman] had concerns over the use of restraint when the man was admitted to hospital for the second time and that attempts were not made to assess the risk he posed or consideration of infection to staff. The report is critical of the UKBA and Harmondsworth staff (GEO Group Inc) for failing to find and inform the man’s family – this was left to French judicial authorities, although the man had given Harmondsworth staff contact details for his parents in France, and they were also contained in his passport, which was in the possession of the UKBA. Neither organisation showed any support for the family or made any effort to return the body or tell the family about financial assistance for that."[20]

2012 deaths of two men

On 30 October 2012, Prince Kwabena Fosu, "a 31-year-old Ghanaian detainee was found dead at Harmondsworth (run by the GEO Group Ltd). Other people detained at the centre issued a statement following the death that made a number of serious allegations about what happened to Prince Ofosu and about the poor treatment of others at the centre. They alleged that guards at the centre restrained Prince while in the ‘block’ (segregation unit) and that he had been held naked in his unheated cell."[21]

On 17 November 2012, Mr Chowdhury "died in hospital having been there for several days. He was placed in intensive care during the evening of 16 November and was only at that point released from detention at Harmondsworth. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) decided not to investigate this death because of ‘insufficient staff resources’."[22] The Home Office Professional Standards Unit investigated and produced an internal report, which HMIP described as "critical".

2013 death of Alois Dvorzak

On 10 February 2013, Alois Dvorzak, "an 84-year-old Canadian man (of Slovenian descent) suffering from Alzheimer’s died in hospital after becoming ill at Harmondsworth (run by the GEO Group Ltd). He was said to have been ‘extremely distressed’ before being rushed to hospital after suffering a suspected heart attack."[23] He died shackled to a Geo security guard by a six foot chain. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman said that Dvorzak's death was “a tragic indictment of the system”, which “is likely to have reached the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment.” The Ombudsman said that the privatised character of the immigration detention system might have led to the excessive use of handcuffs. Multiple doctors had warned that Dvorzak was not fit to be in detention.[24]

2014 inspection

In January the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, published a critical report of Harmondsworth. He referred to the deaths of Mr Dvorzak and Mr Chowdhury as "shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost". Hardwick said: "These were truly shocking cases, and they weren't isolated, and they reflected a culture where too often the individual human needs of the people who were being held were simply being forgotten. And in the worst case, this frail, elderly Canadian gentleman with dementia died in the most undignified and disgraceful circumstances possible."[25]

The report said Harmondsworth felt in "a state of drift", with doubts about its future management. "The centre did not seem to be progressing and some services were being poorly managed," he said. "Most importantly, there needed to be a refocusing on individual needs of the most vulnerable people in detention, some of whom had been utterly failed by the system."

2014 Mitie

In September 2014 Mitie Care and Custody took over running Harmondsworth. Most of the company's senior management had worked for the Geo Group UK previously.

2015 secret filming and hunger strike

<youtube size="medium" align="right" caption="Inside Harmondsworth: 'I don't want to die in here', Channel 4 News ">0W3pV9YcdIE</youtube> In March, Corporate Watch and Channel 4 News released secret filming showing conditions inside Harmondsworth.[26] The videos revealed:

  • Home Office staff admitting that conditions in Harmondsworth are “shit”, and that detainees are not allowed cameras to photograph inside the centre because the government “don't want the bad publicity that would entail”.
  • A guard saying that the new Mitie management has “fucked this place up”, making staff work more shifts and get less rest. “It's just gonna break. There's only so much people can take”, the guard warns.
  • Paul Morrison, Mitie's most senior manager at Harmondsworth, telling detainees that they will be locked inside their cells for two hours longer at night as part of the company's new contract.
  • Detainees living in unhygienic conditions with pigeons flying around inside, overflowing drains, rotting food in the kitchen and bed bugs in their cells.
  • A detainee suffering injuries from what appear to be epileptic fits.
  • Mitie guards selling counterfeit clothes to detainees that had been confiscated at customs by the UK Border Force.

Days after the footage was broadcast, detainees at Harmondsworth occupied a courtyard and went on hunger strike.[27] The protests spread to other detention centres across the UK.


  1. Hansard, HC Deb 16 March 1978 vol 946 cc292-3W
  2. Hansard, HC Deb 30 March 1987 vol 113 cc344-5W
  3. Hansard,HC Deb 11 November 1988 vol 140 cc337-8W
  4. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  5. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  6. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  7. Asylum industry cashes in on vouchers and dispersals, Martin Bright & Conal Walsh, 2/9/01. The Observer viewed 25/08/03
  8. The Times, 22/2/2002 www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-215410,00.html viewed 18/12/03
  9. Annual Inspectors Report, March 2003, p12. www.homeoffice.gov.uk/docs2/imbharmondsworthb2002.pdf viewed 25/08/03
  10. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  11. “Harmondsworth – Unsafe Environment despite good work by staff”. Press Release by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. 29/09/03 Viewed at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/docs2/harmondsworthirc030929.html 30/09/03
  12. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  13. Sergey Baranyuk forgotten at Harmondsworth, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 7 December 2006
  14. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  15. Campaigners celebrate acquittal of Harmondsworth 4, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  16. Asylum riot firm hit by £5m penalty, Jamie Doward and Martha Alexander, Observer, 10 December 2006
  17. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  18. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  19. GEO Group inquests, Corporate Watch
  20. tutional-indifference-in-life-and-death/ Institutional indifference in life and death, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 13 October 2013
  21. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  22. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  23. Deaths in Immigration Detention, Harmit Athwal, IRR News, 8 May 2014
  24. Alois Dvorzak inquest day nine, Corporate Watch
  25. Immigration detainee 'died in handcuffs', BBC, 20 January 2014
  26. 'It's gonna break': life in UK's biggest detention centre, Corporate Watch, 4 March 2015
  27. Harmondsworth detainees launch hunger strike,Channel 4 News, 9 March 2015