Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike. Humanitarian Crisis.

February 27, 2010

The events of the past three weeks prompted me to pick up my copy of Tony Harcup’s “Ethical Journalism” today. I was reminded of his advice that journalists should also be reflective practitioners. This appeals to me as I’m also a trained teacher and much of our training used this useful tool. Although as we know things move fast when you’re writing news and it’s hard to be reflective under those circumstances. I was struck by this Andrew Gilligan quote in the book:

“Journalists…are trying to open a cupboard and shine a torch around – a feeble torch in a very large cupboard – and we don’t know what’s in the bits of the cupboard we can’t see and some of those bits are deliberately not shown to us”.

Trying to write something on Yarl’s Wood feels like this. I entered that very large cupboard again today by formulating a question which I intended to deliver by hand to the Minister for Justice, David Hanson as he appeared with Frank Field in a public political debate in Mold, Flintshire, North Wales today. Unfortunately there were travel delays, I had missed David (who knows of me personally as I grew up in his constituency – indeed although I’m no longer a member I have memories of canvassing for Labour when I was just twelve years old – that’s a long time ago).

David Hanson had left to catch a train already, but I gave a paper copy of the following question to a representative. When I returned home I found the Home Office Press Office had been attentive. There was a message on my phone and another phone call at around 8.p.m. with questions. They wanted to know where I had got my information from. I referred to the interviews I conducted last weekend. As agreed with the Home Office I have now forwarded my question to them (although I’m not sure why they phoned as my original query was for David at the Ministry of Justice – I have my thoughts on this, though). Anyway, here is the original,  clumsy but important query, which asks about Verna Joseph. Another attempt to shine the torch in a very dark cupboard.

Dear David (Hanson) at the Ministry of Justice.

 I spoke to Verna Joseph last weekend during the course of an interview published by the international Quaker Journal “The Friend” online, and also now published by the international Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network website. (“The Friend” is the longest running weekly journal in Britain and has been published continuously since the 1800s and throughout the First and Second World Wars). As you will know, many churches have joined together to support mothers and children at Yarl’s Wood. For links to the pieces and references to the material mentioned below, please check my news blog www.franceslaing.co.uk

 Verna is a detainee at Yarlswood immigration detention centre. Verna told me last weekend that she ‘won her case’ under Article 3. Whilst being no expert at immigration and criminal law, my job as a journalist is to ask the very simple questions which make the situation transparent for the general public.

 Whilst I am  aware that the Home Office is ultimately responsible for Yarl’s Wood – Verna’s situation appears to fall within your remit David. Namely – she maintains that because she won her case, she is currently being illegally detained. This assertion appears to contradict recent statements made by Meg Hillier in a letter to all M.P’s and published on the UKBA website – namely that:

 “ detention is only used when people have refused to leave the country voluntarily, despite support being offered for them to do so, and we have to enforce that removal. Detention is a vital tool in the removal of failed asylum seekers, ex-foreign national prisoners and others whose application to stay have been fully considered by the UK Borders Agency and the independent Courts but have failed”.

 My understanding is that Verna’s case (and that of other women at Yarl’s Wood?) may currently be going to appeal. But that surely does not explain why the decision of the courts i.e. that Verna has won her case –  is apparently not being enforced. So that’s why my press question goes to you, David and not to the Home Office. Can you explain this situation in a way that is transparent for the general public?

 Many thanks

Frances (Laing)

Copy Ends

Post update: Of course, David Hanson is no longer at the Ministry of Justice, but is now at the Home Office I learned today…since 2009 Policing and Security Minister at the Home Office

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