I’ve been off this blog for a good while as you will have noticed. Busy with the International Petition to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds  (if you haven’t signed yet, do consider it.) It was featured in Nursery World this week:

 Nursery World article on Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds International Petition

I’d been wondering how to pick up on this news blog once more after such a long time – but then realised that a very important High Court Judgement was served this week – highly relevant to the issues around child detention that campaigners have been dragging into the light of print (and screen) for many years. An end to child detention? Read this analysis of the High Court judgement written by Simon Parker:

“In the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Wyn Williams might have driven the last nail into the coffin of Britain’s infamous and long-running child immigration detention policy. The detaining of children for immigration purposes has been denounced as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’ by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, yet the current Home Secretary has spared no expense in expertly and robustly defending the policy…

see..Open Democracy for the rest of this piece:

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.

The police:
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 CHILD DETENTION NOW

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). 

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=suffragette&iid=2586384″ src=”6/1/b/6/3b.jpg?adImageId=13004104&imageId=2586384″ width=”500″ height=”374″ /]

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).

Remember Pauline. Remembrance site.

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.

Peace News feature I wrote after Pauline Campbell’s death

Interview with Joan Meredith about the stopping of the prison vans

Blog post about public meeting in Chester chaired by Pauline Campbell, speakers included Annie Machon, former partner of David Shayler

Letter to the late Pauline Campbell – Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. century

Pauline Campbell’s Obituary by Eric Allison

Scriptwriter Emilia di Girolamo’s website

Joan Meredith’s Story – published on the BBC My Story website

Guardian Article on Joseph Scholes

Manchester Evening News Article. 2002 Protest. Pauline Campbell and Yvonne Scholes protest together. Includes picture of the two women.

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.

Helen John stands against Tony Blair in the General Election Sedgefield constituency

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

In this VisionOntv video – released on YouTube just eight hours ago – representatives of the organisation “London No Borders” and SOAS detainee support group give eye witness accounts of conditions at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre. They have been visiting each week and explain how important it is to support a strike and how this strike and previous strikes have changed government policy and contracts.

London No Borders website can be found at this link:

London No Borders

Response from Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. 19th. March, 2009

Received a response today from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Joan Meredith and I made a joint citizen’s complaint about the letter Meg Hillier wrote to all M.P’s. For the text  of the letter see this previous post: 

Parliamentary commissioner for Standards

The Commissioner “considers complaints where the complainant has provided sufficient evidence to justify an inquiry into whether a particular Member has breached the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament and its associated rules“. 

Unfortunately – the letter tells us the Commissioner is unable to help in this instance. The reason being “the Commissioner has no powers to investigate the actions of a Minister acting as a Minister, or indeed the expression of a member’s views and opinions. It follows he will not be able to look into your complaint“. 

Are we seriously calling this a democratic process? Does that mean that Ministers can say anything they want to say, including making statements that are factually incorrect or misleading? Isn’t there anyone who calls them to account? This letter is positively Orwellian.  

Thankfully there are other democratic mechanisms at work in the Yarl’s Wood matter. Firstly Public Interest lawyers have succeeded in securing a judicial review see this Guardian article: 

Court allows judicial review over Yarl’s Wood detention 

Secondly, medical staff at Yarl’s Wood detention centre are also having to deal with complaints made to the General Medical Council. See this Guardian piece:   

Yarl’s Wood Doctor’s investigation 

The following press release was received from hunger strikers today:

“This is to inform the authorities and the public that the on-going hunger strike is to be suspended on the 19 March 2010 at 9.00 am. We are giving the authorities and immigration the chance to look at all the issues raised before and during the strike. We are hoping that management at Serco will review problems at Yarl’s Wood. Also, we expect immigration to carefully look at the cases of women held at the detention centre.

The suspension will last for three weeks until something is done to all the issues that had been raised. Our position will be reviewed on suspension of the hunger strike if there are no changes to the problems and issues. Nobody wants to go on hunger strike, but if the authorities and immigration do not listen to us then we can resume the hunger strike on the 9 April 2010. This letter will be sent with a copy of the problems that we face at Yarl’s Wood.

 We are demanding the following actions 

*There should be a full investigation into what happened during the peaceful protest on 8 February 2010.

*Any travel arrangement for the women who were involved with the protest should be suspended until after the investigation.

*End the frustrations, physical and mental torture at the centre

*Allow enough time and make resources available to residents who need to fully present their cases.

*To end all false allegations and misrepresentations by the UKBA regarding detainees in order to refuse bail or temporary admissions.

*Access to appropriate medical treatment and care as in the community, access to edible and well cooked food, cancel weekly mobile phones charges and allow phone connections, with camera and recording facilities to back up cases.

*To stop the forceful removal and degrading system of deportation of detainees

*To put law into practice, European rules governing standard of conditions of detention for migrants and asylum seekers and the length of time in detention.

*Detention should be by a standard procedure prescribed by law, authorized by judicial authority and be subjected to periodic judicial reviews.

*To end the detention of children and their mothers, rape survivors and other torture victims, to end the detention of physically, mentally sick people and pregnant women for long period of time.

* Stop the fingerprinting and taking photograph of our visitors (Even real prisons don’t do this to visitors)

*To end the separation of children from their mothers being detained whether in detention or by destitution.

*There should be an interpreter for non English speaking women in the wings to help them with their queries.

*To end the detention of women after serving time in prison.  Women served their sentence they should not be punished again by detention or deportation.

* The extortion of Yarl’s Wood shop must end. The shop charges us extra 20p per item, even though the centre knows we have no money.

* To abolish the fast track system, in order to give asylum seekers a fair chance with their application, while understanding the particular needs of victims of torture, and access to reliable legal representation which the fast track system denies.

 *There should be more female officers and black officers. The centre is 80 percent black detainee and only female offices should search our rooms.

*There are very little activities in the centre. There are 12 computers (very slow to use), 10 chairs in the arts room with small material to work with. This is suppose to cater for more than 400 women. The library have no popular books and all the books are very old. We are not allowed to order books from other library.

*To end the repeat detention of women granted temporary admission while reporting or signing after a short period out of detention.

*To a set period of time allowed to detain women, which should be no longer than one month, while waiting decision either from UKBA or court proceedings.

*Finally instead of detention of foreign nationals, there are alternatives to detention stated by the *Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). ‘The detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe ‘, Adopted on the 28th January 2010, extracts  below.

9.1.1.       detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants shall be exceptional and only used after first reviewing all other alternatives and finding that there is no effective alternative;

9.3.4.1. placement in special establishments (open or semi-open);

9.3.4.2. registration and reporting;

9.3.4.3. release on bail/surety;

9.3.4.4. controlled release to individuals, family members, NGOs, religious organizations, or others;

9.3.4.5. handover of travel and other documents, release combined with appointment of a special worker;

Full Text: Council of Europe – Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1707 (2010)1
The detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe

http://tinyurl.com/Resolution-1707  
This letter is sent to the following organisations and individuals
Immigration, UKBA, Crossroadswomen, national coalition of anti deportation campaigns (ncadc), All African women’s group, BID, Liberty, Black women’s rape Action project, Member of Parliment, Medical Justice, Legal Action for Women, Amnesty International, No Borders, Action for women

Copy Ends.

Letter from Meg Hillier at the Home Office. Dated 11th. March. Received today. Picture by Frances Laing. To see the full text of the letter click on the image. Page 1 of 2.

New Labour want to be seen as tough on immigration. They think this allows them to be dishonest . Of course – it doesn’t. In an article for “The Friend” the international Quaker journal published in last week’s  print edition  – I wrote:

“With the launch of Early Day Motion 919 in support of Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers this struggle for truth and justice has reached parliament. In a backlash – Meg Hillier Junior Minister in the Home Office wrote to every M.P. claiming the media were “misreporting”…

…I believe Hillier’s letter was dishonest.”

I queried Meg’s statements for a second time via David Hanson at the Ministry of Justice (see previous posts). In her original letter to all M.Ps and parliament – Meg wrote:

“I should make it clear that detention is only used when people have refused to leave the country voluntarily despite support being offered for them to do so, an dwe 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. The cases of those in detention continue to be examined, however individual detainees frequently prolong detention and removal with the use of judicial reviews or obstructive behaviour”.

In her statements to parliament Meg implies that all the people in Yarl’s Wood have failed in their court cases. This is misleading. Not just for our Members of Parliament – but for the general public – how many people know enough about immigration detention systems to fully understand the implications and background to this? If journalists are good for anything we are supposed to support education for true democracy…so I’m going to try to explain this to you all in plain english:

In the letter I received from the Home Office today Meg Hillier openly admits that Verna Joseph ‘won’ her case in January.

Despite the fact that the Home Office is appealing on Verna’s case – Verna is not someone who has failed in the courts as Meg Hillier has claimed. Put simply SOMEONE WHO HAS WON THEIR APPEAL AT TRIBUNAL IS NOT SOMEONE WHO HAS ‘FAILED IN THE COURTS’.
I believe that Verna is not the only detainee in this situation.

I stand by the comment piece published in “The Friend”. With her letter to all M.P’s Meg Hillier is misleading parliament itself. Verna is just one example of a detainee who has not FAILED in the courts. Meg’s statement to parliament is therefore simply untrue.

The grave humanitarian and political problem we have is this: New Labour want to be seen as tough on immigration. They think this allows them to be dishonest . Of course – it doesn’t.

Meg’s original letter to M.P’s is published on the U.K. Borders Agency website. Read it here.

To read the full text of Meg’s letter to me – enlarge the images.

Page Two of Meg Hillier’s letter. Received today.

Chester, International Women’s Day 2010.   Picture by Frances Laing

International Women’s Day in Chester opened around nine a.m. on Saturday. By the time the event closed, around six hundred women had passed through the doors of the venue.

 The event was opened by Christine Russell, M.P. I made a short speech announcing the workshop I was leading and appealed for messages of solidarity for the hunger strikers at Yarl’s Wood.  These have now been posted to Yarl’s Wood women. Many people came to the stalls we had to find out more about Yarl’s Wood.

Christine Russell M.P maintains she cannot sign an Early Day Motion. As I said on the day perhaps she can do something else which is useful…
The whole event was initiated, facilitated and coordinated by Chester Women’s Aid. For more information about what they do, follow this link to their new web site. Chester Women’s Aid. For local newspaper coverage click here

The Observer has gathered a series of testimonies from detainees inside the Bedfordshire centre who claimed they had witnessed women being beaten and injured during a disturbance this month. See this article:

Immigration Officers to be investigated as detainees ‘beaten’ by guards

Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers is to represent Yarl’s Wood women in a bid for a judicial review. See this Guardian piece: Immigration Lawyers criticise government and this piece

Yarls’ Wood. A disgrace by Phil Shiner and colleague.

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)

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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

According to the UK Borders Agency (see this link):

 “The Government has responded to recent media reports regarding Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre…Home Office Minister, Meg Hillier has written a letter to members of Parliament about the unfounded allegations made by the media, and in particular the recent article in the Guardian about hunger strikes at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre”.

You can download the letter at this link:

http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsarticles/2010/February/yarls-wood-meg-hillier-response

(As you can imagine, readers – I have my thoughts about this statement. For now, though I look forward to hearing reader responses as well as what the editor of the Guardian has to say F.L)

Read my interviews with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers and reportage in “The Friend” published online this week. Follow these links: Voices of the Hunger Strikers  and A matter of conscience.

Here’s a link to the printable Early Day Motion in support of the Yarl’s Wood Women’s Hunger Strike. The Yarl’s Wood women (and their supporters) have succeeded in taking the struggle to parliament. It has been signed by fifteen M.P’s already. Find it here.

Further reports from the Bedford press here.

See this link.

The following resolution was passed at the Green Party conference today

“This conference notes the on going hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre and the demands of the hunger strikers, including

*access to appropriate medical treatment.

*an end the detention of children and their mothers, rape survivors and other torture victims,

*an end to the detention of physically, mentally sick people and pregnant women.

*an end to the separation of children from their mothers.

“This conference is appalled at the way the hunger strikers have been treated, being locked outside without outdoor clothing, and in corridors without toilet facilities. Some women have been beaten by the guards.

“This conference calls on for the immediate release of the Yarl’s Wood 4 (Aminata Camara from Guinea, Sheree Wilson from Jamaica, Shellyann Stupart from Jamaica, Gladys Obiyan from Nigeria), who have been put in prison even though no charges have been made against them.

“This Conference resolves to send a message of support to
WomenBehindTheWire@ncadc.org.uk and a copy of this motion to the Rt Hon Phil Woolas Minister of State for Borders and Immigration.”