Yarl's Wood sex abuse claims probed
Police have launched an investigation into claims that a woman who was held at an immigration removal centre was subject to inappropriate sexual behaviour from guards.
The 23-year-old woman alleges she had sexual contact with male guards at Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, which her lawyer said could amount to misconduct in public office.
Harriet Wistrich of law firm Birnberg Peirce urged the Government to investigate and said consent could be an issue in the matter. Ms Wistrich said the alleged case, involving a Roma woman who was released from the centre last March, was not an isolated one.
"The Government needs to look at what the hell is going on at Yarl's Wood, that this could happen in such a widespread abuse," she said. "It's not a one-off. They need to investigate the whole system there, because it has not worked."
She said the issue was whether individuals being detained at the centre were capable of giving consent, adding: "The problem is that it is not an environment where they are making free choices at all... If an officer conducts himself way outside the permitted rules of behaviour, that may amount to another offence of misconduct in public office, whether it was consensual or not, even if it is not an assault."
Serco, which runs the centre, has denied there is a widespread issue at Yarl's Wood.
John Tolland, Serco's director at the 400-bed centre near Clapham, Bedfordshire, said: "Serco absolutely refutes the allegations made that there is an environment at Yarl's Wood where sexual intimidation or inappropriate behaviour is in any way tolerated.
"We have strict procedures for dealing with any such complaints and they are always fully investigated. We expect the highest standards of behaviour from all our staff and any claims of misconduct are treated extremely seriously.
"On the occasion when an complaint of sexually inappropriate behaviour between staff and a resident was brought to our attention in 2012 the matter was properly investigated and the police were kept fully informed throughout. As a result three members of staff were dismissed."
A Bedfordshire Police spokeswoman said: "We received a report at the end of August from a third party. No one has been arrested in connection with this investigation, but the investigation is ongoing."