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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK
Terror detainees 'mentally ill'
A protest banner
Campaigners have held protests for the men's release
Eight foreigners detained in Belmarsh Prison under anti-terror laws are suffering deteriorating mental health, claim a team of psychiatrists.

Suicide attempts, self-harm, psychosis and clinical depression were symptoms identified by doctors commissioned by the detainees' defence team.

In response, the Home Office said their mental health is continually assessed by a large medical team.

Eleven men are held under emergency laws introduced after September 11.

Hanging attempts

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA), allows Home Secretary David Blunkett to detain without trial foreign nationals he suspects of terrorism.

They can leave the UK but cannot be deported because it would endanger them.

The report was compiled by a team of 11 consultant psychiatrists and one psychologist who visited the men over a period of more than two years. It drew on 48 reports in total.

It claims:

  • All the men suffered from clinically severe levels of depression and anxiety, symptoms which were worsening over time.

  • Some had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to events in their homeland, their arrest in the UK, their imprisonment in Belmarsh or a combination of the three

  • There was a high level of suicide attempts and self-harm, ranging from cuttings to hanging attempts

  • Some had developed psychosis, although the psychosis of a ninth man, a former detainee who was known as G and released under curfew, had improved since leaving Belmarsh

  • The prison health care team is inadequate to meet their needs

  • The three wives are showing signs of clinical depression and one has signs of PTSD
Dr James MacKeith said: "The report reflects our concern with the way indefinite detention has affected these eight.

"There was no research on the potential dangers before this legislation was enacted. For the Belmarsh detainees a price is being paid in damaged health.

The circumstances of their traumatisation are reminiscent of their present circumstances
Dr James MacKeith
Forensic Psychiatrist
"The absence of physical torture is not enough to protect these people from damage to their health."

He said the key difference from people serving life sentences was that these men are a vulnerable group who have experienced traumatic events in their homeland.

And the lack of any due process in law meant they had no idea why they are being held, he added.

Dr MacKeith said the report was not making a political or legal case, but he and the team thought it an "ethical duty" to make this public.

Lawyer Gareth Peirce who represents some of the men, told BBC News Online the report was proof the detention was "driving them mad".

Art therapies

A Home Office spokesman said they had not seen the report and could not comment on it directly.

But a statement said: "All people held at Belmarsh have access to 24 hour healthcare on the basis of clinical need.

The powers in the ATCSA are a vital weapon in our armoury against suspected foreign terrorists posing a threat to national security
Home Office
"All the detainees have an initial health assessment on reception and a comprehensive clinical assessment within 24 hours of their arrival.

"Belmarsh has a mental health team which consists of three psychiatrists, four psychiatric nurses, a consultant psychologist, one full-time and one part-time counsellor."

Facilities such as a psychiatric daycare centre and art therapies are available on request, it said.

The powers in the ATCSA are a "vital weapon in our armoury against suspected foreign terrorists" and have been used proportionately, the Home Office added.

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