Page last updated at 02:25 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Handcuff restraint of asylum seekers criticised

The review was prompted by claims of "systematic abuse" of asylum seekers

A report has criticised the use of handcuffs by immigration and security staff to restrain asylum seekers.

It found handcuffs were used to pull people forward, risking injury, and to restrain asylum seekers in hospital.

The criticisms are in a Home Office-commissioned review of complaints by campaigners of the "systematic abuse" of 300 asylum seekers.

The review examined 29 complaints and found no evidence of this but said some had not been properly investigated.

The review, which examined claims arising from detention centres and the deportation process, made 22 recommendations for the UK Border Agency and its contractors.

'Proportionate' force?

It said private security contractors involved in deportation had failed to properly manage the use of violent restraint techniques by their staff.

And in some cases staff had not considered whether the use of force was "proportionate and necessary".

The review was led by Baroness Nuala O'Loan, the former Northern Ireland police ombudsman, who highlighted the case of a woman from Cameroon who was handcuffed on three occasions while she had treatment and surgery for a lump on her breast.

We take all allegations of mistreatment seriously and the significant improvements made to our complaints procedures are recognised in this report
David Wood
UK Border Agency

Of the 29 complaints Lady O'Loan looked into, she found 18 where investigations had been either inadequate or not carried out at all.

Three cases had resulted in serious injuries - a punctured lung, a broken finger and a dislocated knee.

In the first two cases, the review had found "no satisfactory explanation" as to how the injuries happened.

And in the third, CCTV footage of the incident, which had involved a violent struggle in the back of an escort van, was blocked by an escort officer standing in front of the lens.

However, the report concluded that there was no "pattern" of inappropriate force by any individual.

It called for a review of how complaints are handled, as well as better monitoring of complaints against individuals and a review of training on how force is used.

It stated: "The review of those cases which were capable of review indicates there is, and was, no systematic abuse by persons employed within the UK Border Agency detention estate, or as escorting officers.

'Dignity and respect'

"On occasion there quite simply had been a failure to deal properly with the complaints which had been made and this was acknowledged."

David Wood, strategic director of the Criminality and Detention Group at UK Border Agency, welcomed the report findings.

He said: "We take all allegations of mistreatment seriously and the significant improvements made to our complaints procedures are recognised in this report.

"All detainees are treated with dignity and respect, with access to legal advice and healthcare facilities."

But Harriet Wistrich, from Birnberg Peirce & Partners, said Lady O'Loan had "recognised that use of control and restraint, and the use of handcuffs, on this very vulnerable group of detainees has often been disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate.

"The use of force on such people can cause long-lasting damage as we have been able to prove on many occasions where civil claims have been brought and settled," she said.

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