First published The Canary on 13 September 2016:
They call it “Notorious Yarl’s Wood”.
Notorious for sexual abuse. Notorious for maltreatment. And notorious in its reticence.
In 2015, scandal hit the Bedfordshire detention centre, covered up by four walls and iron fences but uncovered by a series of investigations. In March 2015, Channel 4 News took footage inside the centre exposing the abusive treatment of Serco-employed guards against detainees, referring to them as “animals”, “beasties” and “bitches”, while threatening to ‘beat them up’. The exposé also revealed extremely poor healthcare facilities as well as a culture of self-harm.
In June of the same year, a dossier of complaints was compiled by Women Against Rape and the Black Women’s Rape Action Project. Yet six alleged incidents of sexual abuse, over a three-year period, were only investigated one year later. The Home Office refused to reveal the outcome of those investigations and Serco has outright denied them, saying no cases of sexual abuse had occurred over the period of concern; although 28 employees have been dismissed since 2007 for inappropriate behaviour.
Yarl’s Wood is an £8.8m per year contract for Serco, but its performance has been found wanting in respect of professional standards and general decency. Yet it still enjoys the cloak of secrecy the government provides for it.