A guest post from NCADC supporter Rosa:
On Tuesday 30 October, Prince Ofosu died in suspicious circumstances inside Harmondsworth IRC. Throughout this week serious allegations of abuse and maltreatment by detention centre staff have surfaced, leading many to question, what caused his death?
The Home Office and private security firm GEO, who are contracted to run the centre, have refused to give any details of the incident, including the man’s name, nationality and circumstances surrounding his death. The only communication with detainees was a notice stating that ‘a fellow resident of the centre passed away earlier today‘ and that the centre manager is ‘not at liberty to give any further details at this time‘.
In sharp contrast to the silence from the Home Office and their private contractors, detainees inside the centre and a GEO member of staff, who wishes to remain anonymous, issued a joint statement confirming the man’s name as Prince Ofosu, a 31 year old Ghanaian man. The statement goes on to detail a series of incidences of abuse and violence inflicted up on Prince by GEO staff in the twenty-four hours leading up to his death.
The whistle-blowing officer (a member of the centre’s staff) states that Prince was:
stripped naked at the block [rule 40] and the heating system was turned off. He was left in the cold without even a duvet till his death 24 hours’ later.
The statement describes him being held in the block, ‘forcibly restrained’ and hit by ’massive blows’ from a member of staff. The officer involved in the incident, known as ‘Jim’, was reportedly told to remove his blood stained clothes to hide the evidence, and to request leave.
An inquiry is now under way. The prison and Probation Ombudsman confirmed that an investigation had been opened and PPO investigator was due to visit the centre yesterday. The death has been referred to Hillingdon corner but an inquest is not expected to begin until the middle of next week.
Last Tuesday, aimed to coincide with the visit by the investigating Ombudsman, activists from various campaign groups held a noise demonstration outside the centre to show the staff, detainees and visitors that they would ‘not let this death be silenced!’ With megaphones, horns and whistles activists made their presence known to the people inside:
Detainees piled up at the windows, fists were waving and banging at the impermeable glass. Our cries of freedom, azadi, hurriya, liberte!, were echoed on the inside as a call-and-response chants erupted into a wave of whistles and chanting across the blocks. Detainees flooded the excise yard and chanted some more until they were moved by guards….. we expressed messages of solidarity
Campaigners read out a number for detainees to call if they wanted to talk about what had happened to Prince. In response, activists say, they received a ‘flurry’ of phone calls from those inside. Detainees, from a range of different nationalities, continued to paint a worrying picture of the events that took place. The detainees reportedly described the generally ‘dire conditions’ inside the centre and continued repeated incidents of self harm by detainees. A press release by activists reiterated the concerns of the detainees that they are worried they will ‘face reprisals, such as hastier deportation’ if they speak out about the events leading up to Prince’s death.
Harmondsworth immigration removal centre can hold up to 615 people at anyone time. Built on the template of a category B prison it is now the largest immigration detention centre in Europe. The centre has an historically bad record: in 2006 the HM Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) report detailed a catalogue of failures at the centre to provide for even the basic needs of the detainees. Anne Owens described conditions as ‘worse than had been seen at any other detention centre’ and the 2006 report as ‘undoubtedly the poorest report issued by HMIP of any IRC to date’. Detainees testified that the ‘use of force was high, as was the use of temporary confinement in segregation units’. A routine inspection four years later by HMIP reported detainees complaining of poor health care and that ‘rule 35 reports and subsequent responses to detainees who may have been victims of torture or were unfit to detain were often insufficient’.
Prince Ofosu is the seventh person to die while locked up, indefinitely, inside Harmondsworth immigration removal centre. On 8 October 1989, Siho Iyiguveni, a Turkish national, locked him self in a room and set fire to his own bedding. He died from his injuries. On the 15 June 1990 Kimpua Nsimba, a 24 year old Zairean asylum seeker, was found hanging inside the detention centre; no-one had spoken to him in over four days. On the 24 January 2000, Robertas Grabys, a Lithuanian national, was found hanging in his room the day he was due to be deported. On 7 May 2003, Olga Blaskevica, a 29 year old woman from Latvia, was murdered by her husband inside the removal centre. On the 19 July 2004, Sergey Barnuyck, a 31 year old Ukrainian, was found hanged. He was pronounced dead at the scene. On 19 January 2006, Bereket Yohannes was found hanging inside the shower rooms.
Deaths in detention and during deportation
In 2010, Angolan national Jimmy Mubenga died at the hands of G4S, another privately state contracted company, during an attempted forced removal on British Airlines flight 77. Jimmy had previously come to the UK fleeing persecution in his home country. Eye witnesses report seeing Jimmy being ‘restrained’ and ‘excessive force’ being used. Despite numerous independent witness coming forward, and bringing into question the accounts given by Jimmy’s escorts, no further action was taken against the G4S guards by the crown prosecution service.
The death of Prince Ofosu on 30 October this year brings the total known deaths to date in UK detention centres since 1989 to seventeen. As yet the home office have not shown signs that they are going to release any further information about his death and the involvement of its privately contracted security guards, GEO. For the family of Jimmy Mubenga, two years has passed and they still have no justice.
Don’t forget Prince! Do not let these deaths be silenced!
Demand the immediate closure of all immigration removal centres! No more deaths in detention!
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