Liberty wins ruling against Home Secretary over Harmondsworth disturbance

17 March 2009

Liberty brought the case on behalf of three detainees who claimed they were denied food and water for up to 40 hours; locked in overcrowded, pitch-black rooms flooded with water for more than 24 hours; forced to urinate and defecate in front of each other; and strip searched in front of several officers.

Anna Fairclough, Legal Officer at Liberty, said:

“With so many people languishing in immigration detention, it is shameful that the Home Secretary refused to investigate these very serious allegations of mistreatment. Today’s judgment leaves the Government nowhere to hide should anything of this nature happen again.”

The Court of Appeal found that by failing to conduct an independent inquiry into the disturbance, the Home Secretary breached Article 3 of the Human Rights Act which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment.

Contact Bridget Beale on 020 7378 3677 or 07973 831128


1) Today’s Court of Appeal judgment is in the case of ‘AM & others v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Kalyx Ltd’.

2) Disturbances broke out at Harmondsworth on 28 and 29 November 2006 over the treatment of detainees. The centre is privately run – by Kalyx Ltd. The Chief Inspector of Prisons visited Harmondsworth for an unannounced inspection on 17-21 July 2006 and her report was “undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued”. This report is available here. Kalyx Ltd argued in Court that the treatment of the detainees in question was not inhuman or degrading. This was firmly rejected by the Court of Appeal.

3) Notable extracts from today’s judgment are set out below:

Sedley LJ: “The Home Secretary…has failed to meet the United Kingdom’s obligation under article 3 of the ECHR to institute an independent inquiry, to which the claimants would have full access and which would make its findings public, into the handling of the disturbance which took place at Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre on 28-29 November 2006.”

Elias LJ: “It is not a prison, and the objective is to provide a relaxed regime… Sadly, this has not been achieved… A report made following an inspection shortly before the disturbance noted that officers ran the Centre as if it were a high security prison and that there were high levels of oppression and bullying. The inmates are in a subordinate and difficult situation – there was much evidence, for example, that many were afraid to complain of ill treatment… It is particularly important that the authorities must be alive to the very real potential for abusive behaviour towards such inmates.”

Elias LJ also noted the “many defects in the way in which Harmondsworth is run”.

4) For more information on this judgment or to arrange an interview with Liberty’s Legal Officer please contact the Liberty press office on 07973 831 128.