Border Force branded 'unacceptable' for regularly handcuffing children at Portsmouth port

CHILDREN regularly being handcuffed at Portsmouth port by Border Force officers is ‘unacceptable,’ a watchdog has said.

Thursday, 25th June 2020, 5:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th June 2020, 5:19 pm

The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke wrote in a report his team had found that when detained for immigration reasons, ‘children were regularly handcuffed regardless of risk’.

His report, into Britain‘s use of short-term holding facilities, added: ‘Children and adults were also transported in cellular vans without obvious need.’

It added: ‘At Poole and Portsmouth, Border Force regularly handcuffed children when transferring them to holding rooms regardless of individual risk, which was unacceptable.’

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Left, the adult holding room at Portsmouth. Right, the sleeping facilities at Portsmouth's holding room. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

The report said ‘handcuffs were nearly always used on detainees for onward travel to another place of detention’,

The wider report found that the Home Office did not know about all of its own short-term facilities.

An audit is now being carried out to find out how many it has, and work will then be done to improve standards.

In the 12 months to January 31 this year, Border Force senior managers said they had referred 157 children to local authorities’ social services.

The report said: ‘Almost half of these referrals were from Portsmouth alone, and many ports had not referred any children. At Portsmouth we found good relationships between Border Force and the local authority, with prompt referrals and responses.’

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One person was held at Portsmouth for 21 hours and 41 minutes. Overall across all facilities, the report found there was ‘no management oversight of the length of detention.’

The Home Office blamed circumstances out of officers‘ hands, including delays in other government departments.

The family detention room in Portsmouth was ‘grubby,‘ the report said.

Detainees in Portsmouth were allowed to make a free call but only to a UK number. Staff would also scan and email documents on their behalf.

Inspector Mr Clarke said: ‘While some of those detained at seaports had arrived in cars or as foot passengers, most arrived after arduous and often dangerous journeys concealed in lorries and containers.

‘These detainees were subsequently held in often very poor conditions. Local Border Force staff were themselves commonly embarrassed by the low standard of accommodation and lack of facilities.’

Inspectors looked at eight seaports and five airports in March 2020.

The Home Office said handcuffs are used on the basis of an individual risk assessment.

A spokeswoman said: ‘We take the criticisms contained in this report seriously and work to make improvements is already under way.

‘An audit of all Border Force-run short-term holding facilities, which will establish national accommodation standards, was launched last month and new processes for record keeping, to ensure length of detention is kept to a minimum, have been developed.’