Large-scale disturbances are taking place in the UK's largest immigration detention centre. Police, prison officers and fire crews were called to the Harmondsworth centre, west London, in the early hours after a number of fires were started. About 50 detainees have been seen in a courtyard spelling out the words help and SOS with bed sheets. A prisons' watchdog report criticised the centre's regime this week after repeated disturbances there.
In their July inspection, inspectors found that more than 60% of detainees felt unsafe, almost half (44%) said they had been victimised by staff and detainees and described custody officers as aggressive, intimidating and unhelpful.
Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor with Birnberg Peirce and Partners, spoke to the BBC in July:
"The government is shoving so many people into detention to increase the numbers being removed. But you are working with a group of people who are, by their very nature, very vulnerable. Added to that, if you are locking them up even though they have not committed a crime, and they don't understand why, then the high level of distress can reach boiling point.