Socialist Worker

Refugees 'locked in as fire blazed'

Issue No. 1862

THE TRIAL of the men charged after last year's fire at the Yarls Wood refugee detention centre has already exposed the myth that refugees have an easy life in Britain. Yarls Wood was Labour's flagship centre, built to hold 900 men, women and children. But it was destroyed by a fire last year. In a document presented at the trial, a custody officer claimed he and his colleagues were ordered to lock the refugees in as the fire swept through the building.

Darren Attwood was at the time employed by Group 4, the private security firm, and was on duty that night, 14 February 2002. He revealed during a counselling session that officers were told to 'lock the detainees in the burning building' and that the order was obeyed. Attwood said he believed the order was wrong and it was worrying him. The document also revealed that initially Group 4 itself was investigated for the offence of corporate manslaughter.

As no bodies were found after the fire, no charges were brought. Before the trial Group 4 arranged witness training for some staff, according to the document. The prosecution saw this as 'wholly inappropriate and improper in the context of a criminal trial'.

When they heard about the training, the prosecution advised Group 4 that it should stop. But 16 witnesses had already gone through it. The document also revealed how two defendants helped one Group 4 officer on the night of the fire. He had told the defendants that he was asthmatic and needed to get out. One defendant reassured him in his own language, Italian, and he was helped out of a window.

When the trial began nine refugees were in the dock, facing charges including violent disorder and arson. Four have been acquitted.

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Sat 26 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1862
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