At the moment, it seems the pre-election coalition government pledge to end child detention is sounding hollow. Instead of stopping the detention of children, they appear to be planning simply to deport families instead.
Today, the government pilots a fast track scheme to deport immigrant families (the e-magazine Children and Young People reports).
The move presents serious and far-reaching questions for those charities and organisations like Quakers who demanded an end to child detention.
June 14, 2010
Amongst the tragic litany of human rights failings at Yarl’s Wood comes this news release I received from Clare Sambrook today. She attached a PDF file of the Executive summary of an independent review by Befordshire local safeguarding children board.
Clare’s copy follows:
The report exposes litany of failings by: Local authority managers, Local authority social workers Local police, Local GP UKBA’s ‘Children’s Champion’ and Serco.
Commenting on the report, Malcolm Stevens, former senior government advisor on Social Services said: ‘Yarl’s Wood failed these children. Here is evidence of whole system failure in and around Yarl’s Wood. This calls into question whether the children there now are being properly looked after. It calls into question the competence of UKBA to conduct the current review into arrangements for children. The government urgently needs to appoint someone with independence, experience and professional competence to run the Review into ending child detention.’
Malcolm Stevens, Justicecare Solutions.
Among the failings:
The Local Authority learned of evidence that children below the age of criminal responsibility engaged in sexual activity but failed to carry out complex enquiries in respect of two families, under section 47, Children Act, 1989.
The local authorities’ managers and social workers misunderstood the significance which should attach to the age of criminal responsibility
They misunderstood the concept of “consent” believing in error that such young children could be consensually involved in sexual activity.
They failed to investigate concerns that older children may also have been involved in the sexual abuse of a child, and that these older young people might pose a continuing threat to other detainees.
The local authority social workers:
failed to interview the mother of a child said to have been abused;
failed to liaise adequately with other agencies;
failed to carry out appropriate checks with other localities;
failed adequately to secure police involvement in the enquiries.
inappropriately terminated their inquiries without reference to specialist child protection officers.
The GP failed to recognise that this was a child protection situation, failed to ensure that the child was seen by a paediatrician.
UKBA’s ‘Children’s Champion’ failed to challenge the decisions made by local statutory agencies.
UKBA failed to brief ministers properly: ‘UKBA provided information, on the basis of which a ministerial decision was made affecting the continued detention of children,’ says the report: ‘Although that factual information included reference to the incident leading to this review, there was no evaluation of the impact that this incident had on the propriety of detention.’
Children were failed by the UKBA / Bedfordshire Council arrangements for safeguarding: ‘This Service did not challenge the weaknesses and confusion inherent in the approach of the local authorities and GP,’ says the report. ‘This raises concerns about the effectiveness of these arrangements and suggests the role of the workers within the Service should be reviewed.’
Vulnerable children fell through the gap in regulatory arrangements. ‘. . It appears that no single agency has an adequate overarching responsibility for regulation of services to children in immigration detention,’ says the report.
The report makes stringent and detailed recommendations whose severity highlights the degree and multiplicity of failures of care in this case.
Eg SERCO should:
a) ensure that it can discharge its specific duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, in a way that is not solely reliant on other agencies, and includes an assessment of a child’s welfare needs and any risks posed to or by that child.
b) review arrangements for joint working with Bedford Borough Council to ensure that there are clear systems for feedback to residents of the IRC detained with children, the outcome of any Bedford Borough Council involvement, including options for taking the matter further if the resident remains dissatisfied.
c) review the form and use of Keeping Children Safe from Harm documents. The review should take account of the Common Assessment Framework.
SERCO Healthcare should ensure that medical practitioners and other health staff providing services at the IRC are aware of their responsibility to ensure they are familiar with and follow local child protection arrangements including the need to consult a paediatric specialist.
End of copy.
Update Wednesday 9th. June, 2010 F.L: At the time of writing the blog post which follows – I was unprepared for some of the reactions it engendered. As a result and with respect for the ethics of blogging as described by Rebecca Blood (Blood) instead of changing the core substance of what I’ve written I’ve added several updates to the post which can be viewed at the end.
I wrote the post (perhaps wrongly?) assuming regular readers of this blog would already be familiar with many of Pauline Campbell’s outstanding achievements – especially since the work she did with organisations such as the Howard League and Inquest had been referred to many times in previous blog posts and articles. We know Pauline’s many contributions included her input in the development of the Corston report, for example. Without Pauline many feel the report would never have existed. My assumption (i.e that readers of this blog were already familiar with these achievements) sadly led one reader to conclude that I wished to diminish Pauline’s work, which was not my intention at all.
In the short piece of writing which follows my intention was to focus on some of the little known aspects of Pauline’s story. In voicing an opinion on the campaigns with which Pauline was involved (based on information from interviews documented on this blog) I’ve also met with differing views on this very recent history. Some of these views are included in the updates at the bottom of this post.
I’m aware the writing of recent history can be problematic and should remain a reflective process. I’ve tried to make the point on this blog many times that I believe the documentation of Pauline’s life to date is incomplete. One reader questioned my use of the term “official” story. Of course there is as yet no ‘definitive’ history of Pauline’s life - since the publication of this blog post I’ve become aware of just how many different narratives exist. But with the writing of this post – I hope a little more of the picture has come to light. I’ve always acknowledged there is more work to be done. In the public interest and not least because people are still suffering now from miscarriages of justice in penal institutions.
Since the publication of this blog post – I have come under considerable pressure to change what I had written or remove it. This too, has prompted much reflection. When a journalist and/or blogger is asked to change what they have written or remove it – (unanswered) questions remain – not least regarding whether or not there truly is such a thing as ‘the freedom of the press’. From a professional point of view – I took the step of discussing the current version of the blog post in some detail with the ethics hotline at my union (the hotline serves as an educational mechanism). No outstanding ethical issues could be discerned at the present time. End of Update.
Prisons campaigner Pauline Campbell who died on the 15th. May, 2008 became known as a “suffragette of penal reform”. Like the suffragettes of the 1920s - when she died many of her papers and records of core aspects of her life and work were lost. The police had confiscated Pauline’s computer and belongings were taken away in bin bags.
Is Pauline’s life now destined to become the subject of a television documentary drama? The gifted screen writer Emilia di Girolamo has been commissioned to write a script. Emilia visits Cheshire this week. Of course we know the journey from page to television is a long one – and brings many challenges with it. Only when the script is finished will it be considered as a story for the screen.
The documentary-drama-in-the-making would have the prison campaigning that Pauline was a part of as a central focus.
In the years since Pauline’s death I have researched and recorded many of the lesser-known aspects of this campaign. I met Pauline in 2005. I believe the public meeting I organised in Chester in 2006 which I had asked her to chair must have marked the onset of her public appearances and her political engagement (see update at the end of this post).
I attended Pauline’s Campbell’s funeral, her inquest, demonstrations after her death and memorial gatherings, including the memorial seminar held at Manchester Metropolitan University last year where I was invited to present some of this research(see links below). The research journey had often taken me to Joan Meredith - a close friend of Pauline Campbell.
So I heard, researched and recorded not only the official account of how Pauline lived and died but also what happened in the friendships between Pauline and the activist women she knew and worked with. I learned that like other suffragettes throughout history - for Pauline it was friendship and solidarity between activist women which sustained her work and informed her campaigning and the political ideas she had.
Having gained an NUJ card since Pauline died – I became acutely aware of how Pauline’s work, her personality and her life were being portrayed by the mainstream media. There was a tendency to individualise what she was trying to do. Journalists often spoke of ‘her’ campaign – almost as if no-one else had ever been involved. I’m going to suggest some reasons why they did this:
Firstly, from a journalist’s point of view, the tragic and dramatic details of Pauline’s life and the death of her daughter Sarah at Styal prison easily became a human interest story. Pauline’s arrests produced dramatic photographs and video footage. One grieving mother against the system?
Secondly, many of the journalists who have documented aspects of her life did not live locally in Cheshire. Maintaining a professional stance - many of them could not possibly have been privy to the countless late-night phone calls Pauline made to her friends – the hours and hours of political talk and planning that took place between Pauline and her (sometimes male) but usually female friends.
Thirdly, Pauline – meticulous as she was – often insisted that she be left to stand alone in front of the cameras and downplayed the assistance of other campaigners. She herself would have referred to the campaign as ‘her’ campaign. For very good reasons she wanted to be in control of the information flow at all times. She issued her own reports of demonstrations and often wrote to journalists – correcting their inaccuracies.
Pauline Campbell stopped prison vans to protest against the death of women in prison. Truth or fiction? Is that how the campaigns worked?
In a word, no. From the beginning, it wasn’t Pauline who physically stopped the prison vans. Joan Meredith did (together with other activists). I believe these activists included Yvonne Scholes, mother of Joseph Scholes. When the prison van was stopped the other activists ‘faded’ using a technique well-known to those familiar with direct action leaving Pauline in centre stage to face the media.
What does it matter who stopped the vans? It matters. The stopping of the vans became the symbol of a movement of which Pauline was an important (but not the only part) and as Joan Meredith put it: “stepping out in front of the prison van was as important as Emily Davidson throwing herself in front of the King’s horse”.
At Pauline’s funeral I recall sitting together with Helen John and Joan Meredith to research the article I wrote for Peace News. Pauline Campbell learned from and worked with these activists on a broad scale and if she had held out longer – she would have continued to do so. This is not something which has been mentioned or discussed in the mainstream media. Ignoring this central fact about Pauline’s story means underestimating the true impact she had on society and politics. And she continues to inspire us.
The proposed title of Emilia di Girolamo’s documentary drama script is “A Duty of Care” (her web site tells us).
A duty of care. We need to see it in the prisons system. We need to see it in Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel. We need to see it on our television screens.
Read these pieces alongside this blog post:
May 2010 meeting in Leicester of families – paying tribute to those who have died in custody. Report by the Institute of Race Relations (The day marked what would have been the forty-fifth birthday of Mikey Powell, who died in September 2003 after being detained by police in Birmingham and also marked the second anniversary of the death of Pauline Campbell).
Link to blog post interview written to commemorate the first anniversary of Pauline’s death. Includes photographs of the files Joan Meredith assembled which detail core aspects of Pauline Campbell’s life in particular with regard to direct action and her connections with other activists much of this information has now been passed on to the Welsh women’s archive. Pauline was a lecturer at Newi college in North Wales.
Link to Manchester Metropolitan University Seminar 2009 attended by myself and Joan Meredith. The event was called “The Social Reality of Prisons” – Joan Meredith read out her words featured in the interview about the stopping of the prison vans. Other speakers at the event included:
- Dr Eileen Berrington, Manchester Metropolitan University speaking on: “Not a faded memory: keeping alive the balance of activism,justice and rights”
- Professor Barry Goldson from the University of Liverpool speaking on: “Abuses of power and violations of rights: child imprisonment in a punitive age. A lecture in memory of Pauline Campbell”
- Dr. Farida Andersen MBE - Chief Executive of Partners of Prisoners & Families’ Support Group (couldn’t locate a link for this, does anyone have one? Let me know…)
- and Frances Crook of the Howard League, speaking on the ‘Lost daughters’ campaign.
Joan Meredith’s Blog. Post describes a demonstration at Styal Prison in 2009 to protest against the death of Alison Colk. Pictures by Frances Laing. Demonstration also attended by Yvonne Bailey (formerly Scholes, mother of Joseph Scholes). I travelled with Joan Meredith as Pauline often would have done. Joan told me the details of the journey were the same as with Pauline, they always took flowers and Joan even described how she was the one who used to make Pauline’s sandwiches and coffee.
Update later that day:
It’s been pointed out to me that Pauline Campbell stopped prison vans on her own in later phases of protests. In the original blog post my intention was not to give the impression that every single protest she had ever been involved in was conducted in the way I’d described here. Since we are still at the beginning of documenting Pauline’s life adequately - how could we possibly know this?
I used the words “from the beginning” to describe where and why the idea and the action had originated. My understanding is – that Pauline learned how to stop the prison vans from Joan Meredith and other activists and then went on to do this herself using the same technique.
Update: Saturday 29th. May, 2010
As facts and feelings emerge into the public domain, researchers link up and continue to put the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle together - fresh details of Pauline Campbell’s life come to light. In the original blog post I wrote “I believe the public meeting I organised in Chester in 2006 which I had asked her to chair must have marked the onset of her public appearances and her political engagement”.
On a second reading of previous blog posts I note that (if the information I have to date is correct) of course Pauline had already attended the United Friends and Family gathering in 2003. (See this link). Nevertheless, the Chester meeting I believe was a important turning point for Pauline in terms of her political consciousness and her confidence. To my knowledge it was the first time she had taken on such an important public appearance - significantly – in a location so close to home. It must have taken tremendous courage to do so - and she did it magnificently.
As far as the Manchester Metropolitan University Memorial Meeting in 2009 is concerned, sadly there wasn’t a video recording facility, but I have now received documentation of the event, including the running order of the speakers and for information, some of the memorial messages and a presentation that was given.
A spokesperson for MMU confirmed: “Pauline generously gave up her time to visit MMU to talk to final year Criminology students. I understand she also made similar visits to students elsewhere in the region (e.g. University of Central Lancashire)”.
I shall endeavour to find out whether or not the lecture given by Professor Barry Goldson at this meeting has been published. The title was: “Abuses of power and violations of rights: child imprisonment in a punitive age. A lecture in memory of Pauline Campbell” and the lecture included many vital insights into how and why our government continues to violate international human rights obligations – something which is particularly relevant to current campaigns and debates on child detention. It is hoped that MMU will be holding the event every year, although this is uncertain at present.
Update Wednesday 9th. June, 2010
I offer the following comments (in inverted commas) and alternative viewpoints – for consideration to the reader. They are comments made in the comments box of this blog. All comments are moderated as a matter of course.
Comment: “Fortunately papers and records were not lost” – for an alternative viewpoint – (see this interview )
Comment: “Pauline stood in front of the prison vans on her own many many times but had people, including Joan around her who were all part of the military style approach to her protests, each one having a key part to play”.
Comment: “Pauline stopped numerous vans alone right from the onset…she attended some of the very early protests with just a few close personal friends – no experienced activists in sight. This was also true of many of the later protests – the experienced activists had clearly ‘faded’. End of comment. (See interview conducted in December 2009 for an alternative viewpoint. F.L).
End of update
I vowed to post once a week on this blog and have kept it up so far with the exception of last month. Rest assured readers – if you don’t see me here for a while I’m dealing with some other journalistic work generally relevant to the issues at hand.
There appears to be some movement in the coalition agreements as far as the detention of immigrant children is concerned. See these latest reports on the Coalition Agreement to end the detention of immigrant children from the magazine “Children and Young People Now”.
April 2, 2010
As this blog reaches it’s first anniversary the stories that have been whispering in my ear over the past twelve months are drawn together:
The Yarl’s Wood hunger strike. The forthcoming election. War and refugee movements. The unsavoury ways in which political parties capitalise on people’s fears about immigration. A lack of funding for investigative journalism, censorship - and recurring, stereotypical images of asylum seekers in the press.
Attending the “Arise and Shine” woman asylum seekers self-advocacy event in Manchester last week addressed all of these narratives.
The play and workshops were billed as a ‘Professional Development Opportunity’. As a trained teacher in Adult Education as well as a journalist I had a critical eye on how the event was organised. I was impressed from the start.
The picture on the left, (copyright Shaheda Choudhury) – shows a cross-section of the audience as viewed from the Zion Centre gallery.
Amongst the two hundred delegates – I found Sure Start staff, the manager of a hostel for homeless women, at least one NHS manager, members of the police force and the manager of a council unit responsible for child protection. Concrete proof that this event would be reaching and educating vast sections of the community.
Having conducted interviews with hunger strikers at Yarl’s Wood and researched the fast-track asylum process – I found the story depicted through drama was tragically familiar.
A woman and her family encounter extreme violence and oppression in their country of origin. If she is to save herself and her child the woman is forced to leave. And so she begins to navigate U.K. border control and the asylum system.
The play is authentic. The actors tentative perhaps - but their performance will surely gain in strength as the cast tour other towns and cities such as Liverpool.
For me the most telling moment of the play came when the main character reached an immigration detention centre. The actor in the yellow jacket is playing the role of the employee of a private security company in charge of taking the details of what has happened to our detainee.
At first, I didn’t think this photograph was a particularly good one, simply because the clip board obscures the face of our main character. But then maybe it conveys the essence of the scene. The security officer is asking the woman for her mother’s date and year of birth. The woman says she doesn’t know – says she is too stressed to remember. Not just her face is obscured by the form the officer is filling in. The truth of her story is hidden too. The audience quickly realises she is in danger of being dehumanised by the process.
This is the violence of the fast-track asylum process. People are put in a position where it is extremely difficult or impossible for them to share their truth. And this is how our government makes judgements about their future.
Watching this scene – I put myself in our main character’s shoes for a moment. I realised I don’t even know my own mother’s exact date of birth and would not be able to give that information anyway. How much more difficult would it be to hold things together and communicate clearly in the aftermath of rape, violence and the trauma of being separated from loved ones – in a language which is not your mother tongue?
In the hour long workshop that followed the performance we were asked for reactions to the play. You can see some of these in this picture:
We were also asked to pinpoint how our perceptions had changed as result of watching the performance.
Each of the workshop groups was attended by a member of the cast.
In this next photograph I’m discussing perceptions and issues raised. One of our groups included a Sure Start worker. A lack of child care hits asylum seekers and mothers with children under three particularly hard. Asylum seekers are not entitled the free fifteen hours a week provided by the state that other women living here can access as a matter of course.
Women spoke of how their independence had been curtailed by the fact that they were not allowed to do paid work. In countries of origin it was not unusual for women to be the bread-winners in their families.
Some delegates at the workshop had not known about the voucher system for asylum seekers and how it works. Asylum seekers can only use their vouchers at certain stores. They are often asked for I.D. On a practical level this means that each time you go shopping you run the risk that the whole store finds out that you are seeking asylum. Often the assistant holds up their hand and shouts for assistance from the supervisor. Vouchers cannot be used on public transport.
One of the cast members I spoke to had a child aged one. I know from personal experience how challenging the birth of a child can be for a mother and her family.
The last picture in this blog post features a booklet of interest to many of us. The WAST recommendations for good practice for agencies working with women asylum seekers. Ideal reading material for Gordon Brown or Phil Woolas the immigration Minister…
March 25, 2010