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Second suspension at Yarl's Wood

A second Serco staff member has been suspended from the Yarl's Wood detention centre after "serious and deeply concerning" allegations were made in a Channel 4 documentary, Home Office Minister Karen Bradley has told MPs.

Answering a Commons urgent question, Ms Bradley said the second staff member had been suspended following last night's broadcast, which revealed questions over the stands of care at the centre.

Staff were filmed referring to the detention centre's inmates as "animals", "beasties" and "bitches".

Ms Bradley said: "Serco immediately suspended one member of staff who could be identified from information available before broadcast and have suspended another having seen the footage.

"The company has also commissioned an independent review of its culture and staffing at Yarl's Wood."

The minister said Home Office officials had already visited the detention centre and highlighted the high standards expected of staff.

She said: "Detention is an important part of a firm but fair immigration system. It is right those with no right to remain in the UK are returned to their home country if they will not leave voluntarily.

"But a sense of fairness must always be at the heart of our immigration system, including for those we are removing from the UK. That is why the allegations made by Channel 4 about Serco staff at Yarl's Wood are serious and deeply concerning.

"It is why they required an immediate response to address them and it is why the Government has ensured this is being done."

Ms Bradley outlined how all centres are subject to the detention centre rules approved by MPs in 2001. Together with operational guidance, they set out the standards of care expected, she said.

The Minister told MPs: "No form of discrimination is tolerated."

Regular independent inspections are carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and independent monitoring boards, chaired in Yarl's Wood's case by Mary Coussey.

Ms Bradley said the most recent inspection by the Prison's inspectorate found Yarl's Wood to be a "safe and respectful centre which is continuing to improve", while the independent panel also raised no concerns.

She added: "Nonetheless, the Home Office expects the highest levels of integrity and professionalism from all of its contractors and takes any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously.

"As soon as we were made aware of recent allegations, Home Office officials visited Yarl's Wood to provide assurances all detainees were being treated in a safe and dignified manner."

The Home Office has instructed Serco to act "quickly and decisively" to resolve problems highlighted by the allegations.

The firm's independent review of culture and staffing at Yarl's Wood will be carried out by Kate Lampard, who produced the Lessons Learned review following the Jimmy Savile inquiries.

Ms Bradley added: "More needs to be done. The Home Office has made clear we expect to see swift and comprehensive introduction of body worn cameras for staff at Yarl's Wood.

"In addition, we have discussed with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons how he might provide further independent assurance."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said there had been a history of problems at Yarl's Wood, but - despite her repeated calls - Theresa May has refused to call an independent inquiry.

She also criticised Mrs May's renewal of Serco's contract for another eight years in November , knowing guards stood accused of abuse.

Ms Cooper said: "There is no point in ministers pretending to be shocked at news of abuse. This is not news. Even now, the ministers have not set up an independent inquiry. Serco has."

The Labour frontbencher also hit out at Mrs May's absence for the urgent question and said she should take responsibility "for a change".

She branded what was happening an "utter disgrace", adding: "This is state-sanctioned abuse of women on the Home Secretary's watch and it needs to end now."

Ms Bradley said the Government would not take any lessons from Labour on this. She said the coaltion has a "proud record" but promised to root out the abuse.

She also told the House that Mrs May was at No 10 for the summit on child abuse.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, described the footage as "shocking" and "deeply disturbing".

He called for all of Serco's contracts to be reviewed and said the Government needed to look at its procurement process.

He also said Serco's right to bid for any other contracts should be suspended pending a review.

The Labour MP said: "This treatment is inhumane... We simply can't allow this behaviour to continue in a centre which has a duty to protect."

Responding to Mr Vaz, Ms Bradley said: "We are all shocked and appalled by the evidence that we have seen and action must be taken.

"Be under no illusions, this Government is breathing down the neck of Serco. We want to see action. We want to see action swiftly."

Conservative Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) said there was "no justification" for the behaviour revealed by the footage and asked why incidents kept happening.

Ms Bradley said there did come a point when people who refuse to leave the UK voluntarily have to be detained, but stressed it must be "with dignity and fairness".

But Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather (Brent Central) said far too many people were being detained for far too long and called for community alternatives.

Conservative Richard Fuller (Bedford) agreed there had been an "overuse of detention" by both the last Labour government and the Coalition.

But Ms Bradley said she would not apologise for putting the safety and security of the British public "first and foremost" when someone arrives clandestinely.

Labour's Lisa Nandy (Wigan) said the footage was "shocking" but "not at all new or surprising".

She added: "This is not just about isolated incidents. A system that is run for profit and to targets leaves very little room for compassion or humanity.

"It is about time we got a grip of this system."

She asked Ms Bradley to make sure the review included the impact of private sector for profit involvement in detention.

The minister disagreed it was about public or private sector provision.

Richard Fuller, Conservative MP for Bedford, whose constituency includes the detention centre, said it was a "stain on the conscience of the country".

He said: "It costs millions of pounds a year, 70% of people who go into immigration detention go back into the community."

Ms Bradley said: "You are right the individuals in question have let down so many people. You are also right it is not just about individuals and we do need to get to the bottom of what is going on there and understand exactly.

"I think measures we have insisted Serco take urgently, including the use of body-worn cameras for all staff, will make a difference in exposing where there is abuse.

"I agree people are kept in detention too long - that's because the previous government's immigration system allowed up to 17 appeals.

"The Immigration Act we have brought in brings that number down to four and I hope we will see a difference in terms of the length of time people spend in detention. It is not something any of us want to see but it is a necessary evil if one is to have a fair, robust immigration system."

Labour's Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) said: "I'm disappointed you are reacting in the way you have. This is a very important issue and it is a stain on our country's reputation for human rights.

"Would you agree with me we all have got to learn this tradition of big monopolisitc companies - G4S that let us down with the Olympics, Serco in this case, Capita in terms of the tagging of individuals, and now this Government is putting out to one of these companies our probation service - where are we going to learn the lesson: it is poor management of these companies, the wrong ethic, wrong culture, and the wrong priorities."

Ms Bradley replied: "I think it was the previous government that used private contracts. Private companies are not necessarily bad - they just have to be properly managed."

Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert (Cambridge) said: "Yarl's Wood has been a disgrace for well over a decade. It was a disgrace under the last government, it is a disgrace under this government. When children were detained there, they were left at serious risk of harm.

"We now have adults being left at serious risk of harm as well - that is completely unacceptable.

"Yes, these individual employees were at fault. Yes, the company is at fault. But changing that will not fix the system. Get a new company, get a new organisation, get new employees will not solve the problem.

"What we have to do... is to completely rethink the system. No other country in Europe has indefinite detention. No other country in Europe holds people for years on end."

Ms Bradley said: "You referred to children being treated badly in Yarl's Wood. You will know this Government has stopped that, this Government has taken action.

"I will look at the report (by Ms Teather) and I look forward to going through the suggestions being made - but I think it is worth repeating the point we have reduced from 17 down to four the appeals a detainee can make against their detention, against their removal, and it is also worth saying 63% of detainees are released within 28 days.

"We need to get that figure down, in terms of the percentage released in that time, but we also need to make sure this is fair for those that play by the rules."

Labour's Kate Green said she was "sickened and appalled" by the reports out of Yarl's Wood about detainee treatment, adding she was "ashamed" by partisan comments made by MPs.

The Stretford and Urmston MP said: "In the past there have been reports that women with evidence to give or victims of abuse have been deported before their cases could be properly investigated. What assurances will you give that will not happen, that all evidence will be gathered in, and that those who have a story to tell will be heard and will remain in this country to do so?"

Ms Bradley said: "You are right this is about the people, and the victims of abuse are those we really do need to think about and put at the forefront of what we are doing. Within the Modern Slavery Bill we are introducing new protections for victims of trafficking and that includes victims of trafficking who come to light in detention.

"The training we need for frontline staff to make sure they can identify those victims so we can get them into the national referral mechanism, so we can give them the support they need and so we can catch the evil perpetrators of those crimes, is absolutely paramount and it is something we have to have at the forefront of what we are doing."

Liberal Democrat John Leech (Manchester Withington) urged that Serco be stripped of its contract to ensure public confidence.

The minister replied: "I don't think the answer is to strip Serco. The answer is to make sure we get to the bottom of what has happened.

"We are holding Serco's feet to the fire. I want to see action, we are making sure they take action and we will take action against them if we need to."

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