Posts Tagged ‘Serco’

UN Anti-Racism Day – London

Saturday, March 19th, 2022

March 21st was established by the United Nations as a World Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the sixth anniversary of police opening fire and killing 69 peaceful protesters at Sharpeville, South Africa on March 21, 1960. Protests in the UK for UN Anti Racism Day take place close to the date and there will be large national marches today, 19th March in London and Glasgow and tomorrow in Cardiff. Today’s post is about events in London on March 19th 2016.

UN Anti Racism Day - London

Stand Up to Racism – Refugees Welcome march

UN Anti Racism Day - London

Thousands met at the BBC to march through London to a rally in Trafalgar Square in an event organised by Stand Up to Racism against racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and fascism and to make it clear that refugees are welcome here.

UN Anti Racism Day - London
Lee Jasper and Zita Holbourne at the front of the Black Lives Matter bloc on the march

Prominent on the march were Black Lives Matter protesters, wearing red in support of the ‘Justice for Sarah Reed’ campaign, chanting loudly “Say Her Name, Sarah Reed” and “Black Lives Matter”. She had died aged 31 in Holloway prison where she was held waiting for psychiatric reports following an attack on her, possibly an attempted rape, by fellow patient in a psychiatric hospital for which she was arrested and charged with grievious bodily harm with intent.

An inquest decided she had killed herself when her mind was unsound, and that unacceptable delays in medical care contributed to her death. Clearly too the prison staff had failed in their duty of care. Four years earlier she had been falsely arrested for shoplifting and seriously assaulted by the arresting officer who was later convicted and dismissed from the Metropolitan police for the offence.

There were also a number of groups on the march working with refugees trapped in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk, and some of those had lines drawn across their lips to remember some of the refugees on hunger strike there who have sewn up their lips.

Although the deaths of many refugees drowned in crossing the Mediterranean have led to widespread sympathy among the British people, there has been no compassion shown by our government, who have increasingly been driven by racists and bigots who oppose Britain taking in any refugees and want to abandon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the UK helped to draw up in 1947-8.

There were a small number of these bigots, members of the far-right group ‘Britain First’ in their para-military uniforms, who came to shout insults and make offensive gestures at the marchers as they went through Piccadilly Circus. A large ring of police kept them away from the marchers and protected them from any attack by anti-fascists.

Stand Up to Racism – Refugees Welcome march


Refugees Welcome Rally

Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean was killed by police in Brixton in 2008

At the end of the march there was a rally in Trafalgar Square, with a long list of speakers. They included Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy Hardy, MP Diane Abbott, MEPs Claude Moraes and Jean Lambert, journalist Journalist, writer Michael Rosen, leading trade unionists Dave Ward CWU, Christine Blower NUT, and Sally Hunt UCU, Marilyn Reed the mother of Sarah Reed, Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett and Marcia Rigg, Maz Saleem daughter of the Mohammed Saleem who was killed in a racist attack, Talha Ahmad of the Muslim Council of Britain and a young refugee from Iraq.

Refugees Welcome Rally


Australians protest on UN Anti-Racism day

Australian human rights protesters were holding protests at embassies around the world, including the Australian High Commission in London to condemn the Australian government’s racist immigration policy and treatment of refugees.

Refugees who try to claim asylum in Australia are locked up and detained indefinitely in contradiction to international law on remote Pacific Islands including Manus and Nauru in detention camps run by Serco and will never be allowed to resettle in Australia. The Australian protesters were joined by some of those from Movement for Justice which has led protests against the UK immigration detention centres, including that at Yarl’s Wood, run like the Australian camps by Serco, where detainees, also held indefinitely, have been sexually abused and denied proper health treatment. At least one prisoner in the Australian camps has been beaten to death by the prison guards.

Australians protest on UN Anti-Racism day


DPAC’s ‘IDS Resignation Party’

Finally on 19th March I went to Parliament Square for another human rights related event, where Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were celebrating the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, one of the chief architects of the brutal Tory welfare policy that has caused them so much suffering, harm and deaths to disabled people.

Though they were pleased that IDS has gone, his policies remained, and his successor, Stephen Crabb, proved top be equally be bigoted and lacking compassion and any understanding of the needs of the poor and disabled.

DPAC’s ‘IDS Resignation Party’


More on all these events on My London Diary:
DPAC’s ‘IDS Resignation Party’
Australians protest on UN Anti-Racism day
Refugees Welcome Rally
Stand Up to Racism – Refugees Welcome march

Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood

Saturday, March 12th, 2022

Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood. On Saturday 12th March 2016, six years ago today, I made another visit to the immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood where the Movement for Justice (MfJ) had organised another large protest.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women at the windows – one holds a bible through the narrow window opening

The Home Office no longer uses Yarl’s Wood to house large numbers of women asylum seekers, but unfortunately this does not mean their cruel and racist policies have changed. Women were at first moved out because of Covid, but Priti Patel has set up a new immigration prison, Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre, to hold 80 detainees to replace it, with around 88 women being moved and locked up there for Christmas 2021.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
People march down the road to a footpath leading to Yarl’s Wood

The new centre at Hassockfield is on the site of the notorious Medomsley Detention Centre, where over 1,800 young male detainees were abused in the 1960s to 1980s, and is at at Medomsley Edge, 13 miles NW of Durham, 1.7 miles North of Consett. It has been renamed again as Derwentside, to give it a more friendly image, though the river is around a mile away as the crow flies. Almost certainly the Home Office was fed up with the protests organised by MfJ and others at the already rather remote site at Yarl’s Wood, around 5 miles outside Bedford, and thought it a good idea to move it rather further away from London, where there are many former detainees and activists who came to demonstrations.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Marching along the footpath

But of course people came from all over the country – including from Scotland – to Yarl’s Wood, and protests will continue, with an active ‘No to Hassockfield‘ local group at their centre, although it’s too far away for me to photograph them.

Women have little to protest with and the windows only open an inch or so. They hold messages to the glass and throw out toilet paper

Hassockfield is so remote that the Home Office was unable to find law firms which would give satisfactory tenders to give legal advice there and abandoned the search – with detainees now only able to get advice by phone. Women for Refugee Women are calling for donations to mount a legal challenge over this lack of support. There is a great deal more information about the cruel and racist treatment of asylum seekers with many telling their own stories on their web site.

Yarl’s Wood like almost all of the immigration prisons is privately run for the Home Office, with companies cutting costs for profit

Back on 12th March 2016, my own journey to Yarl’s Wood didn’t go too well, with a train cancellation. But I still got to Bedford Station in a little over two hours and in time for the coach organised by MfJ to the meeting point at Twinwoods Business Park, around a mile walk from the prison. Unfortunately the coach driver didn’t know the way and police had put up large signs stating the road up from the A6 was closed (though in fact they were letting traffic to the protest to go through.) The result was a rather lengthy tour of the Bedfordshire countryside – with another wrong turning, meaning we arrived the best part of an hour late.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Protesters climb up to show placards and balloons to the women

Fortunately the event had started with a rally on the road waiting for people from around the country to arrive, and the mile or so walk to the prison was waiting for us and only just about to begin.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Battering the fence makes a lot of noise

Fortunately it was a fine day for the walk, but there had been heavy rain in previous days and some of the footpath and the field beside the prison where the protest took place was full of mud and some puddles, making it hard to move about and keep my balance. As you can see in some pictures close to the fence it was a sticky mess.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many of those protesting were former detainees, some of whom spoke at the event

The field has a fairly steep slope up from the 20ft prison fence, which does enable protesters to see over the lower 10ft of thick metal sheeting and to glimpse the women waving, shouting and holding posters at the upper floor windows inside.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women had written messages on towels and clothing to hang out through the narrow openings.

It is tricky taking pictures through the 10 ft upper section of the fence with its thick wire grid and I don’t have the kind of long and fast lenses for this. I actually declined the invitation from the organisers to photograph the first large MfJ protest here as I knew I didn’t really have the right gear, suggesting they invite a colleague. But for later protests I decided that there were many other pictures I could take and I could at least get some kind of pictures through that fence.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many reports have confirmed the abuses taking place inside Yarl’s Wood

Many of those at the protest were people who had been locked up inside Yarl’s Wood or other detention centres, and almost all of those who spoke had stories to tell about how their mistreatment – having been physically and sexually assaulted, locked in rooms, denied medical assistance, unable to get proper legal advice and more. Most had come to this country fleeing from violence, often from rape and in dire need of care and understanding and instead were locked up, their stories disbelieved and further subjected to hostile and inhuman treatment.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Detainees are allowed phones and some were able to speak from inside the immigration prison

At the end of the protest people let off a number of coloured flares before the long walk back to the coaches. I was rather caught in the mud and unable to get close to where this was happening. On the path and road back to the coach I tried to scrape the worst of the mud from my boots and trousers on the grass and on the kerb of the road, and found some sticks to help, but Bedfordshire mud proved extremely persistent.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Most of the speakers were former detainees and friends inside could hear them

We needed to remove our boots before getting on the coach, and fortunately I had a plastic bag to put them in for the journey, getting back into them where we were dropped off at the station. The journey home was slow but uneventful and I was exhausted and needed a good meal and a bath when I arrived – but at least unlike those detainees I was free.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood

More at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood on My London Diary, where you can also find accounts of other protests at Yarl’s Wood as well as other immigration prisons at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook using the site search.


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Flowers to Yarls Wood – 2017

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Four years ago on Saturday 18th November saw Movement for Justice’s 12th protest outside the immigration detention prison up a hill around 6 miles north of Bedford, calling for this and the other immigration detention centres to be shut down. On this occasion many took flowers to pin to the upper section of the fence where they could be seen by the women inside.

The whole system of immigration detention seems to have been designed as a deterrent to asylum seekers coming to the UK, though unsuccesful in doing so. People who had fled their countries because they were in fear of their lives and had often been subject to violent attacks and rapes were thrown into jail while there cases were being considered. Often their imprisonment made it very much harder for them to provide the evidence demanded by the Home Office of the danger they had been in and their suffering, and official reports and journalistic investigations, some by reporters who had taken jobs at the centres, both revealed the callous and often illegal treatment they received from the staff in these privately run centres, including sexual assaults and violence.

Mabel Gawanas who was held inside for a day under 3 years speaks to her friends still inside

The accomodation provided is poor and the food is of poor quality and often fails to meet the relgious ordietary needs of the detainees, and there have been numerous reported cases where necessary medical treatment has been either refused or excessively delayed. But the major problem is that immigration detention is of indeterminate length, with some detainees serving perhaps a few weeks and others up to three years. Unlike in a normal jail there is no known length to the time people serve and no way that they know when they may be released or deported. And there is no process for them to appeal their detention. The government like to pretend it isn’t a prison, and there are some differences in the routines, but those held inside cannot leave and are often restricted in their movements inside the buildings.

The windows only open a few inches

There are currently in 2021 seven ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK as well as a number of short-term holding facililites. All but one of the seven are run by private companies, Serco, Mitie, G4S, a Capita subsidiary and Geo, and they are run to make profits. The less they spend on food, staffing and facilities the more the companies make – and the more those detained suffer. In 2015 the Chief Inspector of Prisons labelled it ‘a place of national concern’.

Yarl’s Wood is in an isolated location, hidden away from roads on a former wartime airfield. As I found cycling from Bedford Station it is on the top of a hill and rather windswept. From where the protesters coaches and cars can park it takes aroud a mile walking along public footpaths to get to the field next to the prison where the protests take place. The prison is surrounded by a 20 ft high metal fence, the lower half with metal panels and the upper half with a thick wire grid material that allows the upper storeys of the building to be seen from the top of a rise in the field.

It’s difficult to take pictures through this screen, but not impossible. I’d taken with me a Nikon 70-300mm lens and was working with the D810 in DX mode which converts that into a 105-450mm equivalent and still provides a 16Mp file. Focussing was tricky as the autofocus was very good at focussing on the wire, leaving the building behind well out of focus, and although it would sometimes focus on a window frame, it was far easier to use manual focus.

I also took some pictures on a 28-200mm (equivalent to 42-300mm) which was better when I wanted to include any foreground detail, but the windows became rather small. Even at 450mm any one of the pair of windows only filled around a sixth of the frame, and some of the images have been cropped.

For photographing the protesters as well as that highly versatile 28-200mm used both as a X lens on the D810 body and a full-frame lens on the D750, I also had a 28-35mm lens for use on the D750.

Many of the exposures I made where not quite sharp. It was November and the light dropped off fairly dramatically towards the end of the protest and by 3pm I was having to work at 1/250s at the full aperture of F5.6, not really fast enough a shutter speed for a 450mm lens. So camera shake added to my focus problems. At 3.30pm the protest seemed to be nearing its end, I was getting too cold and decided it was time to get on my bike and return to Bedford Station. Fortunately except for a short steep slope it was more or less downhill all the way.

In August 2020 the Home Office announced it was ‘re-purposing’ Yarl’s Wood, which became a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. But by November 2020 it had also been brought back into its previous use with around ten women then being indefinitely detained there.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12


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A Wet Day at Yarls Wood

Friday, September 10th, 2021

Five years ago Movement for Justice organised a protest outside Yarls Wood on Saturday 10th September 2016, and I took the train to Bedford where there was a coach to make the five mile or so journey to the remote site on a former WW2 airfield, now a business park. Unfortunately it is so remote that the coach driver didn’t know the way, and we ended up making a lengthy detour and arriving over half an hour later than we should have done.

The coach set us off as usual on the road outside the Twinwoods Business Park entrance, around 3/4 mile from the Immigration Removal Centre. A rally was taking place on the grass there while waiting for everyone to arrive.

Eventually we set off marching down the road to the public footpath that leads along mainly muddy tracks beside several fields to that beside the immigration prison. The prison has a 20ft high fence around it, the first 10ft with solid metal sheeting and the upper half with a thick gauze through which we could see the women at the windows welcoming and signalling to us.

The field rises up quite steeply from the fence, enabling us to see the two top floors of the nearest wing of the centre, a private prison run by Serco. Going further back the lower floor where famiilies were housed became partly visible. Those held inside are in indefinite detention, never knowing when they will be released or deported – and one woman was kept locked in there for just one day less than three years.


Many of the supporters of Movement for Justice have previously been held in this or similar detention prisons, and a number of them spoke at the protest about their experiences inside. We also heard from some of the women inside, who unlike those in our normal jails, are allowed mobile phones. Some told us how Serco security guards had prevented them from coming to the windows and were threatening those who greeted the protesters with solitary confinement.


Other groups from around the country had come to support the protest, and among them were Latin American women and Sisters Uncut, who at one point provided a display of coloured flares from the top of the hill. Unfortunately be the time I had clambered up to muddy slope to take pictures it was past its peak.


The rain continued, though fortunately it was not too heavy, but the slope towards the fence meant that some areas were waterlogged and others were slippery mud. It was a noisy protest as people shouted and kicked the fence and battered it with branches. On my way back to the coach I went to take a look at the real wood called Yarl’s Wood to the south. I’d hoped I might find another view of the prison, but was disappointed. it seemed a shame that such a peaceful wood should be mired by taking its name for this shameful immigration prison.

Many more pictures at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood on My London Diary.

Yarl’s Wood November 7th 2015

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

On November 7th 2015 I went to a protest outside Yarl’s Wood organised by Movement for Justice, calling for this and all immigration detention centres to be closed down. It was a cold and wet day, but fortunately the rain eased off at times.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Home Office began moving detainees out from the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre, and all of them had gone by the middle of August. The centre which opened in 2001 had been used mainly to hold women, though there were also some families there. But the centre is not to be closed down, but is being used to house migrants who have come across the Channel. It seems likely they will be treated just as badly as the previous residents.

There was very little reason for most of those housed there over the nineteen years it was in operation to be held in a secure unit. They presented no danger to the rest of us and the centre provided none of the support that many needed, with inadequate health care, poor food and little or no counselling for the many vulnerable people who who had fled their countries because of violence against them including rape. Holding them in this fairly remote location with limited contact with the outside world made it difficult for them to prepare themselves for immigration hearings.

Some were found to have been illegally deported and many more were not given proper consideration before they were deported. But over half of those held there are simply eventually released, amny after months or even years of imprisonment – one woman was held for just a few days under 4 years. These people are not criminals but we treat them as if they were – though worse in some ways as their detention is indefinite at the the whim of the Home Office.

Yarl’s Wood had a particularly bad record, with abuse and sexual harassment and a failure to provide adequate care, highlighted both by official inspections and by undercover reporting for Channel 4 News. Many of those held inside have reported horrific stories of their mistreatment.

Yarl’s Wood is run for profit by Serco, whose CEO Robert Soames is the brother of former Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames and is a grandson of Winston Churchll and a nephew of former Defence secretary Duncan Sandys. Like many of our leading Tory politicians he studied PPE at Oxford and was a member of the Bullingdon Club. Perhaps these kind of connections help the company in getting lucrative government contracts despite their poor record on delivery.

Serco have been given the most Covid-related government contracts among UK-listed companies and despite their failures with test and trace were recently awarded another £57 million contract for it – as with the others without any competitive tendering. Shadow Cabinet Office secretary Rachel Reeves commented “This government seems obsessed with shovelling huge sums of public money to a handful of outsourcing companies without competition, rigour or accountability“. Serco’s share price shot up by 17% on news of the latest government handout and they revised their profit forecast for the year upwards to £165m.

Yarl’s Wood is on an industrial estate created on a former Second World War air base in the middle of nowhere on the top of hills a little over 5 miles north of Bedford. Around 20 coaches brought campaigners from around the country, with a shuttle service bringing some from Bedford Station and others arriving by car, taxi and bicycle. Among them were a number of Movement for Justice supporters who had previously been held in this and other detention centres. Most of the speakers at the rally were former inmates, and we also heard from some of those inside who are allowed mobile phones and held up their numbers in the windows.

The protesters are not allowed into the Business Centre and instead walk along the road and across a several fields on a public footpath to reach a field on the edge of the centre which is surrounded by a 20 foot high fence. The bottom ten feet of the fence is made of solid metal panels and the centre can only be seen through the top half which is covered with a metal mesh.

Photographing through this mesh presents some problems. Apart from partly blocking the view, my cameras autofocus systems prefer to focus on the mesh and it is generally easy to use manual focus. Standing on the small hill facing the centre gives a view of the top two floors of one wing of the centre above the solid metal fence. The windows of the centre can only be opened a few inches – just enough for those inside to wave a towel or clothing etc. And Serco staff try to keep the women inside away from the windows and in other parts of the centre, sometimes assaulting them to prevent them reaching these windows.

‘We Are From Torture We Need Freedom’

To get good views of the windows long lenses are needed, and require fast shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. I don’t really have the most suitable lenses for the job.

Many more pictures and more about the protest on My London Diary:
MfJ ‘Set Her Free’ protest at Yarl’s Wood
MFJ Meet Outside Yarl’s Wood


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.