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Last Updated: Monday, 6 August 2007, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Campsfield's troubled history
Campsfield detention centre
There has been a long campaign to close Campsfield House
The escape of 26 detainees from Campsfield House in Oxfordshire is the latest in a series of disturbances to hit the immigration removals centre.

Fourteen of the men are still on the run after rioting led to the breakout on Saturday night.

Previously, rooftop protests and hunger strikes have also brought unwelcome publicity to the centre, near the town of Kidlington.

And less than five months ago, in March, seven staff and two inmates were injured when a number of fires were started during a riot.

Formerly a Young Offenders Institute, Campsfield was converted into an immigration detention centre in 1993 amid a storm of protest from local residents.

Run by the American company GEO, which specialises in operating detention facilities, it holds up to 200 male asylum seekers and is almost always at full capacity.

'Unsafe'

Within six months of opening Campsfield experienced a major problem when six asylum seekers escaped following a rooftop protest.

And over the next few years, low-level disturbances inside the centre and regular public protests outside its gates kept it in the public eye.

In August 1997 about 50 detainees took part in a day-long disturbance prompting a report by the then Chief Inspector of Prisons.

In his report, Sir David Ramsbotham said that the centre and other similar facilities were "unsafe" because of the absence of enforceable codes of conduct for detainees and staff.

And he warned that until "clear rules and obligations" were established, the prospect of repeat disturbances would remain.

Sir David's prediction was realised with Campsfield House being dogged by continuing problems.

'Outdated'

Following a High Court ruling in 2001 that some Kurdish detainees in a similar Cambridgeshire centre were being held illegally, about 90 detainees at Campsfield embarked on a hunger strike which attracted national attention.

Their action culminated in a visit to Campsfield by then Home Secretary David Blunkett. The following year Mr Blunkett made an announcement that campaigners against the centre had been pressing for: Campsfield House would close.

Mr Blunkett branded the centre "outdated" and said asylum applicants would instead be housed in "better, high-standard" centres.

But the decision to close Campsfield was reversed in 2003 following extensive damage caused to another major immigration detention centre - Yarl's Wood near Bedford - following rioting.

Campaigners were outraged, especially as Campsfield continued to come in for criticism by the prisons watchdog. In 2003 the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, concluded it was not "a place of safety" because of poor levels of supervision.

In 2004 the government suffered a setback in its plans to expand Campsfield to accommodate nearly 300 detainees when the local council rejected the application.

The application was subsequently withdrawn. A Home Office spokesman told the BBC News website other options within the county were now being considered as part of a wider look at the detention estate.

Protesters continue to hold monthly gatherings at Campsfield's gates to demand improved conditions for those inside.




SEE ALSO
Nine hurt in asylum centre riot
14 Mar 07 |  Oxfordshire
Asylum centre expansion rejected
02 Sep 04 |  Oxfordshire
Asylum seekers 'suffer sex abuse'
08 Apr 03 |  Oxfordshire

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