Missed Appointments: The Nigerian prince and the UK failed immigration system
Last February The Independent ran a story about a Nigerian prince who had suffered prolonged mistreatment in UK detention centres to the extent that he allegedly “begged” the Home Office to return him back home, where he had suffered gunshot wounds and beatings at the hands of his torturers. The article by Robert Verkaik, however, omitted important details of the systematic failures of the UK Border Agency and G4S, despite swathes of evidence sent to the paper’s Home Affairs editor by Prince Ademola Babatunde Bakare via his supporters. Without the details, the article almost rendered him “a fussy prince moaning about not being looked after,” as one of his visitors put it. The documents have since been passed to Corporate Watch and Mr Bakare has left the country with serious medical conditions resulting from the systematic negligence he received in detention. Here is the full story.
Prince Bakare comes from the Ajike royal family, one of three royal families in the city of Owo, the state of Ondo, Nigeria vying for power. In February 1999, when Olateru Olabegi III was installed as the new king of Owo, his appointment was challenged by Prince’s family as illegitimate. In May 1999, Adebayo Adefarati became the governor of Ondo and supported the family’s claims to royal rule. Resources from Prince’s cocoa business, including his vehicles, were used by a local militia known as the Ehin Ogbe Boys in the struggle against Olabegi, who is aligned with the ruling party in Nigeria, the People’s Democratic Party. One of Prince’s uncles, who had raised him, was Chief Ademiyi Bayo Ajike, the former director of the state security service and a leader of opposition movement, Alliance for Democracy.
Soon the Ajike family received a threat from Olabegi that “your blood will be shed in your own town” and many family members immediately left the area. A series of violent clashes between Olabegi’s ‘Palace Boys’, backed by the federal police, and the Ehin Ogbe Boys followed, in which many lives were lost and property destroyed. Prince’s business partner was killed by a shot in the head and one of his staff murdered. Bakare himself was shot in the legs and stabbed in the hand while trying to defend himself; his teeth smashed and his toe nails ripped off with pliers during torture sessions designed to find his uncles’ whereabouts. He was eventually rescued by the Ehin Ogbe Boys but the troubles did not stop.
In 2004, Bakare’s wife was raped and stabbed in the back; his three-year-old son burned with boiling water and his house set on fire. The family were rescued by the Ekiti state’s security services and eventually fled to Canada. In January 2008, Bakare and his uncle, Chief Ademiyi Bayo Ajike, were attacked in Benin, where they had fled for safety. His uncle was tortured then shot and bled to death, while Prince was shot in the legs and had his rips broken.
Prince was meant to accompany his family to Canada but mistakenly boarded the wrong ship in Togo, which carried him to Ireland. He came to the UK in March 2008 and was subsequently arrested for using false documents while trying to join his family.
The crime of seeking asylum
Prince Bakare was arrested on 25 December 2008 at Gatwick airport for using a forged passport. He claimed asylum on the same day on the advice of the police officers. He was taken straight away to High Down Prison in Sutton. On 13th January 2009, he was transferred to Lewes Prison, having been sentenced to six months imprisonment for possession of a false passport. After about 10 days, he was transferred to HMP Canterbury, where he spent over 5 months. After serving his sentence, he was transferred to Brook House immigration detention centre at Gatwick airport, which is run on behalf of the UKBA by G4S. His asylum claim was refused but the Home Office refusal letter is full of misunderstandings and factual mistakes.
Two Rule 35 reports relating to his torture and gunshot wounds were submitted to the UKBA, the first on 2nd July 2009 and the second on 4th August 2009. Detention Centre Rule 35 requires detention centre doctors to report to the UKBA “any detained person whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention.” On 14th August, Prince received a letter from his caseworker acknowledging the receipt of the first Rule 35 submission and stating that the UKBA was considering his release on a temporary admission. His detention was being “maintained for a short period” pending the decision, the letter by Shyama Reveendiran said. More than six months later, he still had not received any further correspondence from the UKBA. His Rule 35 reports were effectively ignored by his caseworker or someone higher up in the UKBA, despite strong evidence that he had a special medical condition. There is abundant evidence that such reports are often ignored by Home Office caseworkers (see here for more details).
Prince also applied for bail but this was refused on 24th August 2009. The Home Office representative claimed at the bail hearing that he was receiving treatment in detention for problems with his legs when he had not, in fact, received any proper treatment for that ailment apart from referrals to a specialist, which never materialised, thanks to G4S. In a letter by Saxonbrook Medical Centre dated 21st August 2009, in response to a fax query by Prince’s caseworker asking whether he was receiving any treatment, Dr A Gascoyne clearly stated that “the afore mentioned man has been referred to a vascular surgeon for his chronic leg symptoms on the 18th of August and is awaiting hospital appointment for this.” No mention of any ‘treatment’.
In November 2009, Prince lost his appeal, with the Home Office arguing he would be safe if he relocated to another part of Nigeria (the ‘internal flight’ argument), never mind the fact that he had tried that in the past, and even fled to another country (Benin), and was nevertheless reached by his enemies. Nigeria is on a so-called ‘white list’ of countries whose nationals’ asylum claims are automatically considered ‘manifestly unfounded’ and are therefore often not considered properly. Section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 sets out a ‘certification process’ by which asylum and human rights claims can be certified ‘manifestly unfounded’, where there is no right to an in-country appeal. Although only Nigerian male cases are officially on the ‘white list’, an institutionalised perception that all Nigerian cases are ‘unfounded’ leads to the effective suppression of evidence that violence or persecution has occurred, including medical evidence that is often highly consistent with the claimant’s account of how he or she sustained their injuries or scars. The result is a near-automatic dismissal by Home Office caseworkers of Nigerian asylum claims, regardless of their merits or supporting evidence.
After he lost his appeal, the immigration authorities were planning to transfer him to Dungavel detention centre in Scotland. He was, however, kept in Brook House as he was not fit for travel. Immigration officers also threatened him repeatedly that if he did not sign ‘voluntary return’ papers, then he would “remain in detention for a long time.” He initially refused to sign as he felt there was still some hope in his appeal and because he also feared making himself known to the Nigerian authorities. Towards the end of 2009, however, as his pain was increasing and hope diminishing, he decided to sign the papers and return to his unsafe country through the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). He was, nonetheless, returned on a Frontex-operated mass deportation flight on 3rd February 2010.
Fit for detention?
Prince had had 26 bullets removed from his body, leaving extensive damage to his legs’ veins, which doctors say will never function properly again. A gunshot wound on the ankle, from the Benin attack, was apparently left open after an operation. The wound healed slowly but Prince developed varicose veins, with a clearly swollen left foot. He was also suffering back problems because of being beaten with heavy sticks and chains in Nigeria. Now he could not sit down for more than an hour and the Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (TENS) machine he was given in HMP Canterbury was no longer of much help. He also had some sight problems due to a fracture in his skull.
Prince complains that the healthcare professional at Canterbury prison “did not provide the proper standard of care that I needed. Instead, I was given the same drugs [mainly pain killers] from January to May 2009.” The drugs’ side effects eventually got worse and he began to suffer from a pain in his lungs and stomach. But things could get much worse, as he was to find out when he was transferred to an immigration prison.
Dr Frank Arnold of Medical Justice, who examined Prince on 1st September 2009 in Brook House, found “strong clinical evidence in the form of many scars and other lesions, including gunshot wounds to both legs, which show that there is a reasonable likelihood that he has been the victim of organised violence.” He further found that Mr Bakare showed “strong evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder.” This and similar medico-legal evidence was effectively suppressed by the Home Office.
As a victim of torture, and especially one with serious medical problems, Prince Bakare should not have been detained for such a long period of time. The UKBA’s own Operation Enforcement Manual states that torture survivors, children and people with serious medical and psychiatric conditions should only be subjected to administrative detention “under very exceptional circumstances.” Data on the number of torture survivors who are detained in the UK is not readily available but, in 2007, more than 150 asylum seekers were released from detention after being assessed by the Medical Foundation following claims of torture in their country of origin. According to a report in March 2008 by the Immigration Asylum Commission (IAC), and as exemplified by cases referred to the MF, many torture survivors continue to be detained (see here for more details).
Over the six months or so that he spent in detention, Prince was seen by many health professionals and referred to specialists several times for his serious medical problems. He never managed to see one, however, because G4S, the private company that manages the detention centre where he was locked up, claimed every time that there was “no transport available” to take him to his appointments. Instead, he was referred back to the detention centre’s healthcare facility, which did not seem to be able, or willing, to provide him with the treatment he needed.
On 24th July 2009, Prince had an appointment at the Orthotic (Surgical Appliances) Clinic at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, booked for him by his previous GP. He had been transferred from Canterbury prison to Brook House, so the prison management sent a letter, dated 10th July, to the detention centre management notifying them of the appointment and asking them to cancel it should he not be able to attend. The appointment was not cancelled but Prince could not attend as “no transport was available” to take him.
The same happened on 6th August with an appointment at the Hip to Toe clinic at Crawley Hospital. A letter from the clinic to the detention centre management said that Mr Bakare had been given another appointment but, if he failed to show up this time, “he will be discharged back to yourselves.” And, indeed, that is what happened. A letter from his GP, Dr Farrah Sherpao of Saxonbrook Medical Centre, said she “can’t give him [a] reason why his appointment got missed” and reminded the detention centre management that G4S was “responsible for taking detainees to their appointments.”
At least four medical appointments in a row were missed for apparently the same reason. After each missed appointment, Prince sent a complaint letter to the Brook House management asking for an explanation why his appointment had been cancelled. On two occasions, G4S acknowledged the receipt of his complaint and promised a “full investigation.” Only on one occasion a letter by the centre’s deputy director, Derek Milliken, dated 24th August 2009, apologised for the appointment being cancelled and claimed there was “lack of transport available” due to “circumstances beyond our control.” There was no explanation what these circumstances were. All other complaints were simply ignored, despite further letters by Prince complaining about the lack of response. To quote one of his letters, “It seems to me you can afford my complaints.”
And that’s not all. On 30th October, 2009, Prince missed his appeal hearing at Brentford Magistrate’s Court because “there was no transport available.” A G4S manager, called Mr Ian, told Prince, about an hour before the time of the hearing, that his hearing had been cancelled and claimed that the immigration authorities had “not approved his transport.” Prince immediately called his solicitor but could not get hold of him, so he called the court directly and was told his hearing had not been cancelled and that they were still expecting him.
The Immigration and Asylum Tribunal at Hatton Cross has admitted that this is not an uncommon experience and that Brook House has been “particularly bad” in this regard, blaming G4S. Even G4S staff have admitted that “this happens quite a lot” but blamed the UKBA’s Detainee Escorting and Population Management Unit (DEPMU), which they claimed cancelled appointments without informing G4S.
The second time round, after his appeal hearing was rescheduled, Prince was delayed for several hours for no apparent reason before he was eventually taken to the court. Again, no explanation was given by G4S and his complaint went unanswered. Even a long letter by the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group to David Wood, then head of Criminality and Detention at the UKBA, expressing “serious concerns… over the provision of escort of detainees,” did not get anywhere.
The letter, of which Prince kept a copy, states that the visiting group has “heard numerous complaints from detainees that hospital appointments have been cancelled due to lack of transport.” This has been corroborated by the GUM clinic at Crawley Hospital, which said there has been “a catalogue of missed appointments and inaccurate information about HIV-positive detainees.” So Prince’s case does not appear to be unique, except perhaps that he has managed to collect enough evidence to prove it. Indeed, many campaigners and detainee visitors have said this was “one of many systematic failures throughout the detention estate.”
But Prince had not yet given up. Among others, he wrote to his MP, Nick Raynsford (Labour, Greenwich & Woolwich), who wrote to immigration minister Phil Woolas on 4th November 2009, asking why G4S had failed to take Mr Bakare to his medical appointment and appeal hearing. About a month later, on 30th November, the minister replied saying that, “due to resourcing and unforeseen circumstance that arose [on the two occasions the MP had highlighted], G4S were unable to provide the transportation required to take Mr Bakare to the appointments booked.” Mr Woolas also claimed that, “as a result of these missed appointments, G4S has been asked to review their procedures and has put into place processes, which have been approved by the UK Border Agency, which will stop this occurring again.”
Of course, they did occur again and again, not least to Prince Bakare himself, who was not able to see a specialist until he gave up and opted to go and see one in Nigeria instead.
During his last month in detention, Prince started to ‘threaten’ the detention centre management that he was considering going to the press as a last resort. This seems to have backfired as the G4S management, as well as the UKBA, became more aggressive towards him. They also started to make false allegations about his ‘aggressive’ behaviour to discredit his claims and justify his bad treatment in case the story broke out.
On 14th January 2010, Prince received a letter from the UKBA terminating his ‘job’ at Brook House as a ‘wing servery’, claiming that he had been “extremely aggressive” and “abusive” towards a UKBA member of staff in the interview corridor. According to Prince, all he did was to ask the member of staff to get his caseworker to put a message, she was carrying from the latter, in writing. The message from the caseworker was that Prince should not ring his office any more.
In a response letter dated 16th January, Prince denied the allegations and pointed out that, if he had acted aggressively as claimed, why was he not arrested immediately by G4S security guards or put in isolation for 24 hours whilst the case was investigated, as is usually the case. Furthermore, Prince argued, as an allegedly aggressive person, he would not have been able to keep his ‘job’ as a ‘wing servery’ for so long, in fact up till the day after the alleged incident.
As mentioned above, Prince had signed a ‘voluntary return’ agreement with the IOM, which arranges refugees’ return to their home countries if they drop their asylum claims. After a two-month delay in issuing him with travel documents, Prince was not returned by IOM on a commercial flight, as is usually the case, but was, instead, put on a mass deportation flight to Nigeria operated by the EU border agency, Frontex. The joint European charter flight on 3rd February 2010, which went via Ireland and Spain, saw Prince, along with other deportees, being treated “like an animal.”
In a letter from Nigeria to his supporters, Prince said that some people on that flight, which included families and children, were beaten by the security guards and treated “very badly… they were being dragged like a dead person [sic].” A boy was beaten up “bitterly” when he started to shout that he had left Nigeria at the age of three and did not have any relatives in Nigeria any more. The beating must have been so hard, Prince wrote, that “loud crying” could be heard from the crowd, presumably by the boy’s family, and the boy had to be seen by medics. Many deportees, each accompanied by two security guards, were also shouting that they had court hearings pending or wives and children in UK.
When they were left in an open-field cargo airport in Lagos, many deportees’ belongings went missing. Despite being a ‘voluntary passenger’, Prince was “traumatised” by the experience of being deported on a mass deportation flight. His hands and legs were in pain from the handcuffs and the long hours of sitting still. On top of the journey, deportees had to wait on the coach for seven hours, from 11am to 6pm, without being allowed to move or stand up. The security guards, on the other hand, had a break every 30 minutes and swapped places with other security guards not charged with ‘escorting’ deportees. Noticing his increasing pain, one of the medics on board the plane told immigration officers that Prince “should not have been there” but was ignored. Previous medical reports clearly stated that he was not fit for travelling and flying, certainly not in handcuffs.
Prince has been in hiding in Nigeria for almost three months now and is scared he might be killed. He is awaiting an opportunity to be able to leave the country and join his family in Canada. He is also determined to take the UK immigration authorities and G4S to court, not least to prevent this happening again in the future to other unfortunate people who end up in their caring hands.
Some quotes from Prince
“I was advised that people claiming asylum were treated really badly in the UK. I simply wanted to join my family in Canada. I had no intention of remaining in the UK.” – from a witness statement by Prince Bakare, dated 28/9/2009, in response to the Home Office refusal letter.
“Being in detention makes me terrified everyday that I am going to die.” – from a personal letter from Prince to supporters.
“This negligence attitude [of G4S] affected me physically and psychologically because I thought I am going to die.” – letter.
“The Home Office is using my illness to torture me.” – letter.
“I am a torture survivor and am still suffering seriously from my past torture, which I needed proper standard medical care for. […] Please I need your help to publish this situation in papers, internet etc. after I have left this country.” – letter.
“I had the shock of my life when we started our journey from Tinsely House to the airport. […] Everywhere I looked, there was punishment without crime. […] Every time I remember how we detainees were treated on that charter flight, a haunting emptiness descends over my heart.” – from a letter after leaving the UK, describing the charter flight experience.
“I never wanted to stay or live in this useless country. All I wanted was some appropriate medical treatment and to be treated like a human being, not like a criminal.” – phone call.