Belfast Telegraph

Centre 'had oppressive atmosphere'

Some immigration detainees were held in an "oppressive" atmosphere in Northern Ireland, a watchdog report revealed.

Frosted glass and high windows at former police cells in Larne House, near Belfast, lent a claustrophobic feel to parts of the detention centre - but those held there spoke positively about their treatment by staff, HM Inspectorate of Prisons said.

The reviewers found that the facility was managed effectively by helpful workers, but some security measures were disproportionate.

The report said: "Frosted glass and high windows in some rooms gave them a claustrophobic feel. Part of the facility had been a police station, and a few rooms were converted police cells.

"Despite efforts to soften them, they were small and retained a somewhat oppressive atmosphere."

Larne House is run by contractor Tascor on behalf of the Home Office. The centre accommodates up to 19 detainees for up to five days.

Most were subsequently transferred to an immigration removal centre in Great Britain or removed from the UK.

A total of 131 people were kept there for an average of three days during the period prior to last year's inspection.

Rooms were clean and had basic furnishings.

Staff rarely used force and were polite and helpful towards detainees, while the atmosphere in the centre was relaxed, the review said.

It said: "Staff were visible throughout the accommodation areas, and spent significant periods in the association area talking to detainees. Detainees spoke very positively to us about the care they received."

The report added: "The facility was managed effectively by helpful Tascor staff but, as at the last inspection (in 2011), there were too many risk-averse practices."

It noted:

:: There was little evidence of bullying and victimisation; however, men and women were held at the facility and neither could lock their bedroom doors. Security cameras in the corridor did not address the risk to women of men entering their rooms. Detainees inspectors spoke to felt safe.

:: The number of cases of use of force was low, with two incidents in the year (2013) to date.

:: There were no formal protocols to safeguard adults in place.

:: Legal advisers and representatives could visit detainees. Chairs in interview rooms were bolted to the floor, which was a disproportionate security measure.

The report said some measures to prevent self-harm were also excessive.

"Detainees were not allowed to keep scarves, phone chargers or other items deemed to present a threat of self-harm. This included mints which staff said detainees could break in two and cut themselves.

"We saw one detainee who was not permitted to keep his sweatshirt as it had ties on the hood.

"Toiletries were kept locked in an office cupboard, and detainees had to ask to use them irrespective of whether they had been identified as being at risk of self-harm."

A Home Office spokesman said d etention is a vital tool that helps remove those with no right to be in the country.

He added: "It is vital that our facilities are well-run, safe and secure and we are pleased that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons has noted the effective running and management of Larne House - particularly the positive and confident interaction between staff and detainees, where detainees spoke very positively about the care they received.

"We are carefully considering the contents of the report and the steps that may be necessary to meet its recommendations in due course."

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