UK Border Force staff were ‘embarrassed’ by the poor conditions of short-term holding facilities at ports and seaports used for detainees. HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited five airports and eight seaports to asses the facilities for people who often arrived in the UK after ‘arduous and often dangerous journeys concealed in lorries and containers’ .
According to the report, there was ‘an urgent need’ for Border Force managers to undertake ‘a comprehensive national audit’ of detention which often involved vulnerable people held for over 24 hours. The report found no access to a detention duty legal advice service in any of the facilities and no management oversight of the length of detention.
Inspectors revealed that Border Force was unable to provide ‘comprehensive information on the numbers of detainees, length of detention and the types of detainees held’. A consistent lack of record-keeping was demonstrated by the absence of detention logs.
According to the inspection, vulnerable detainees could be held ‘for far too long’. Inspectors reported that in Harwich last year a pregnant woman was detained for 27 hours 45 minutes. The average length of detention in Harwich was almost 15 hours being compared to under two hours in Aberdeen.
Inspectors were critical of ineffective leadership by senior Border Force staff and highlighted an ‘alarming lack of oversight and accountability’. Staff told the inspectors that they felt ‘forgotten’ by their employers. The report noted that staff did not realise that the ‘rules applied to them’.