Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Held asylum seeker given 38,000

Yarl's Wood detention centre
The woman was held at Yarl's Wood over a six-month period

An African asylum seeker who fled her homeland after being tortured and raped has been awarded 38,000 after a judge ruled her detention "unlawful".

The judge made the award to the 36-year-old woman who was held at Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedford.

The judge ruled that the Home Office mishandled the woman's claim.

Judge Kenneth Parker QC said she was held despite rules designed to ensure "that those who may have been victims of torture were not held in detention".

He said there were "serious shortcomings" in the treatment of the woman, who was referred to as PB.

Multiple scars

The judge, sitting as a deputy High Court judge in London, said: "Detention is stressful for anyone, whatever their past experience, but torture survivors are particularly vulnerable to increased mental illness when detained."

The award is believed to be one of the largest of its kind.

Judge Parker said PB made an asylum claim in December 2006 and sent to Yarl's Wood.

She told officials she had been tortured after being held by gendarmes in Cameroon and was put on the government's "fast track" procedure for asylum claims.

Her account of her suffering was not believed, and her subsequent appeal was also rejected.

In February last year she told pressure group Women Against Rape (WAR) that she had also been raped twice before fleeing Cameroon.

I don't find the conduct of the defence was deliberate or that unlawful harm was intended
Judge Kenneth Parker QC

In April last year she was examined by a doctor for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture who said multiple scars on her legs and feet were highly consistent with torture, the court heard.

Judge Parker said the 2001 Detention Centre Rules stated that every detained person must be given a physical and mental examination within 24 hours of admission.

In PB's case, the Home Office authorities had failed to follow the proper procedures and ensure a medical examination took place before she was placed in the fast-track process, the court was told.

The judge said he saw no reason why a competent GP would not have seen the scars and reached the same, or similar, conclusions that there was evidence of torture.

The judge said he believed that would have led at an early stage to PB's release.

The judge said he must proceed "with caution" because it was not yet officially established that PB was a victim of torture, but there was independent evidence to support her account.

The judge added: "Although there were serious shortcomings in the treatment of the defendant, I don't find the conduct of the defence was deliberate or that unlawful harm was intended."

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "Where a review of our procedures in a particular case shows that we need to do things differently we will learn those lessons."

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