G4S – making money from brutalising vulnerable detainees

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In summer 2017, staff employed by private security firm G4S, which runs Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) near Gatwick Airport, were secretly filmed abusing detainees. The footage showed one custody officer allegedly trying to choke a detainee. In other clips, staff were verbally and racially abusing inmates and ridiculing suicide attempts, saying they did not care if detainees died.

The alleged abuse was revealed in a BBC Panorama documentary, aired on 4 September. Callum Tilley, a G4S custody officer at Brook House, was so appalled by the abuse he had witnessed in his time there, that he agreed to wear a hidden camera to film his workmates. Following the programme, 10 G4S staff were suspended.

It was later alleged that G4S, the world's biggest security company, had deceived the Home Office in respect of the profits they made from IRCs. The exact profit margin G4S is contractually allowed to make is not published by the Home Office or the company, but under the original contract, seen by The Guardian, the agreed initial limit to the profit margin was 6.8%. Any profits over that figure were supposed to be handed back to the Home Office. But following Panorama, a former senior manager at Brook House, Nathan Ward, told a House of Commons Select Committee that G4S made far higher profits than their contract allowed.

This is not the first time G4S staff have been caught on camera abusing those they are paid to look after. In January 2016, another Panorama investigation showed staff mistreating children at Medway Secure Training Centre Kent (STC), then also run by G4S. An undercover reporter secretly filmed staff abusing children. One clip showed a custody officer allegedly pressing on a child's windpipe, causing him to say he could not breathe. Other footage showed staff openly talking about falsifying records of violent incidents.

Seven members of staff at Medway were eventually charged with a variety of criminal offences and their trial will take place early next year.

The report of a child saying he could not breathe while being restrained by G4S guards, will stir bitter memories for those who monitor the treatment of those detained in the care of G4S. In 2013, Three G4S guards were acquitted of manslaughter over the unlawful killing of Jimmy Mubenga, who died on a deportation flight to Angola. The court heard that Mubenga told staff who were restraining him that he could not breathe, but his plea went unheard.

And in 2004, at Rainsbrook STC, run then by G4S, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died while being restrained by three guards. He had refused to clean a toaster which he said he had not used. Three guards restrained him using a technique called a double- seated embrace.

At the inquest into his death, one of the guards said at one stage that Myatt said he could not breathe. Somebody said, ‘If you can talk you can breathe.’

Gareth was five foot six inches tall, and weighed six and a half stone. Between them, his assailants tipped the scale at well over 40 stone.

Last year, an inspection report into Oakhill STC said the use of force against children had doubled since the last inspection. Inspectors said  that levels of force in the two weeks before the inspection were particularly high.

In 2016, in a parliamentary written answer, the government said the cost of keeping a child in an STC was £163,000 per child, per year.

In 2013, G4S was temporarily banned from bidding for government work over allegations of overcharging on contracts to electronically monitor released prisoners. This included allegations that the company had charged for tagging people who had died. In 2014, the ban was lifted in 2014 when the company agreed to repay £109m and put in place a ‘corporate renewal plan’ to prevent any recurrence; however a Serious Fraud Office inquiry remains ongoing.

How many more people need to be abused, or die, in the care of G4S: or how much money must they swindle from the taxpayers, before the government stops signing the fat cheques over to this wretched company?