May's callous treatment exposes the brutality of the system

May's callous treatment exposes the brutality of the system
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WAY BACK IN 2013 AND 2014, alongside Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, I spoke in the debate on the Immigration Bill brought in by Theresa May that was to remove the rights to citizenship from the Windrush children. Like them I voted against the bill but I also wanted to expose the brutality of the way people who had come to this country seeking asylum were being treated. The large scale use of detention was part of the creation of  the  hostile  environment that May wanted for migrants coming to this country.

It was a policy that included the advertising vans that toured my area urging people to go back to their country of origin and May’s attempt to prevent their children being able to attend school, which I exposed by leaking government documents to the media.

This is part of what I said in the debate: “I am  seething  with  anger. I  have 1,000 detainees in my constituency, at the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres. I ask hon members to read the report on mental health in detention centres that was published in January this year by Medical  Justice. It states: ‘There is a crisis of mental health in detention, as demonstrated   by  the many court cases… Evidence and experience shows that mental illness is the greatest health issue for detainees. The safeguards to prevent the detention of those with serious mental illness are not working. The rate of mental illness is already high in those who are subject to detention, in part due to the stresses in their life journey to that time. Detention serves to increase that mental illness  and distress.’”

I went on to say: “The report from the chief inspector of prisons came out earlier this month. It explains what is happening in detention centres. There is an increase in the number of self-harm incidents. A significant number of detainees are refusing to accept food. In Harmondsworth, we now have regular hunger strikes. The place has been burned down twice as a result of detainees’ anger at being detained."

“The report said: ‘Disturbingly, a  lack of intelligent individual risk assessment has meant that most detainees were handcuffed on escort… and on at least two occasions, elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, were handcuffed in an unacceptable manner.’ These men were so ill that ‘one man died shortly after his handcuffs were removed and the other, an 84-year-old man, died while still in restraints.’ Those were ‘shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost.’”

I am pleased that the real face of Theresa May’s harsh inhuman attitude and behaviour has been exposed. When she attacked Labour Home Office ministers she denounced them for blaming their civil servants for any failures in the department and not taking responsibility themselves. Indeed she called upon them to step up to the plate and resign.

She now needs to follow her own strictures and admit responsibility and go immediately. The policies that she drove through as Home Secretary have engendered immense human suffering for which she must now be held to account. From her we need a letter of admission of guilt, an apology and a resignation. Nothing less will be enough and even then she will have to live the rest of her life carrying the guilty burden of the human consequences of her behaviour.

Let me remind you, though, that the detentions centres are still there in Harmondsworth, Colnbrook and the notorious Yarlswood. They are still packed with detainees desperately seeking justice. All too frequently we hear the stories of the lengthy periods of detention people have to endure before they secure justice, and the incidences of harsh and at times inhumane treatment in these centres.

The Windrush scandal has  exposed the effect of May’s brutal policies  on  one group  of  victims – but  we  need to remember that the system and institutions remain that are inflicting similar hardship and pain on so many others.


Shadow Chancellor, MP for Hayes and Harlington, Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and Chair of the Labour Representation Committee. John has been involved in Labour Briefing since the early years.