Inquiry into riot at asylum centre

15.Feb.02,  first published by BBCnews: read the original article here.

The Immigration Service has announced it will be holding a full investigation after a 100m asylum centre was partially destroyed during an outbreak of violence. A series of fires spread through the Yarl's Wood Removal Centre in Bedfordshire - the damage is estimated at 38m. The Home Office said it was unable to say how many detainees absconded from Europe's largest immigration centre. Bedfordshire Police have started a criminal investigation and Group 4 who run the complex are also holding their own inquiry. Half of the accommodation at Yarl's Wood was destroyed in the fire. Mr Bates said eight people had been recaptured and efforts were under way to determine how many, if any, were on the run. Speaking to the BBC, he said: "We've accounted for all our staff and we are in the process of going through the detainees at the centre to ascertain who is there and who may have left." He said as many as 20 people may have escaped from the complex. A spokesman for Group 4 said almost all the several hundred CCTV cameras in the complex had been smashed. There were also reports that detainees stormed the hi-tech control room to destroy equipment and records.

Officers overpowered

GMB union official Ed Blissett said four female nurses were "besieged" and locked in a room by detainees while the building was burning. One employee broke his pelvis jumping 15 feet from a first floor window not only to escape the fire, but also to prevent refugees from using his keys to get to an area used for storing metal and woodworking tools. Group 4 spokesman John Bates said the keys stolen from two members of staff were used by detainees to open two side gates at the perimeter. The disturbance is thought to have been triggered by a dispute over the restraining of a 55-year-old woman. A spokesman for Group 4 denied that handcuffs were used during the incident which started as an argument between three female detainees. A claim by people protesting against detention that one detainee had been refused medical attention for three days has also been strongly denied by the company. Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire, said: "There was an incident involving a particular detainee. We get detainees that can be difficult, and she was difficult. "There was an argument and she had to be restrained in some way. "Whether that triggered a spontaneous response or if there was a bit more planning involved, I don't know. We can't be naive about this. "She had to be restrained and others piled in and overpowered officers."

Conflicting reports

Acting Deputy Chief Constable, Cliff Dixon, said he believed the disturbance at the centre was premeditated. "There would have been some sort of degree of orchestration (reflected by) the degree of response," he said. The first fire started shortly after 2000 GMT on Thursday in the reception hall - it was put out by firefighters. Other fires in the same wing followed. Six people, including two police officers, were injured and the 400 detainees were moved out of the buildings. Immigration minister Lord Rooker is demanding to know why no sprinkler system had been installed - despite recommendations from the fire service. Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service Acting Deputy Chief Fire Officer Clive Walsh said: "We were asked for our opinion at the end of 2000, early 2001, and it was our advice to have sprinklers in a building of this type." The centre has room for 900 refugees, although it only currently houses 400. It was built at a cost of 100m and was only officially opened last month