The new immigration detention centre at Gatwick airport will not be opened until the spring, Corporate Watch has learned. The official opening had been scheduled for February this year but has been delayed for undisclosed reasons. The purpose-built high-security prison, named Brook House, is based on the ‘successful’ design of Colnbrook detention centre at Heathrow airport. The new detention centre will be run by Global Solution Ltd (GSL), which is now owned by G4S, and will hold up to 426 male and female detainees.
When opened, Brook House will be situated within the boundary fence of Gatwick airport, approximately half a mile from the other existing detention centre at Gatwick, Tinsley House, on the South Perimeter Road. The facility is being developed on behalf of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) by the Airport Property Partnership (APP), a joint venture between the British Airports Authority (BAA), which owns the airport, and Morley Fund Management, an asset management company owned by insurance group Aviva. The arm of BAA which deals with commercial property is BAA Lynton, which obtained the planning permission for the building of the detention centre on behalf of the APP, as they did with Tinsley House.
Brook House is part of the Home Office plans to expand Britain’s detention estate, which also include two new potential detention centres in Oxfordshire and Bedfordshire, as well as demolishing and rebuilding two wings at Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow airport, which were destroyed by fire following a riot by detainees in November 2006. The two new ‘secure wings’ are due to open in late 2010.
In September 2007, the No Borders UK network organised a protest camp near Gatwick to protest against the building of Brook House. Despite constant harassment of local farmers by police, the camp went ahead with several hundred people attending a wide range of workshops, discussions and actions (see here). Various protests took place during and around the camp, including a Transnational Demonstration on 22 September, which saw some 500 people marching from the town of Crawley to Tinsley House, near the building site of Brook House.
The contract for managing Brook House on behalf of the UKBA has been awarded to Global Solutions Ltd (GSL), which was recently acquired by Group 4 Securicor (G4S). With headquarters in Broadway, Worcestershire, GSL specialises in outsourcing government services through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and Private Finance Initiatives (PFI). It employs about 9,000 staff in the UK, Australia and South Africa, with a total revenue of more than £400 million. GSL also runs Tinsley House and Oakington detention centres, as well as three PFI prisons (Altcourse, Rye Hill and Wolds). In addition, their prisoner escorting and court custody services see over 750,000 prisoners and detainees a year .
GSL has been repeatedly criticised by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for the lack of sufficient meaningful activities in the detention centres the company runs (see here). In her 2008 inspection report, Anne Owers expressed, once again, “concerns over provision for children” held at Tinsley House, and considered that conditions for the much-reduced number of single women were “unacceptable”. Similarly, the Independent Monitoring Boards said in their 2007 annul report that the ‘reception area’ in Tinsley House, a small and inhospitable cell-like room, “remains a threatening environment for children.” A BBC documentary titled Detention undercover: The real story, which was broadcast on 2 March 2005, revealed evidence of racism and mistreatment by GSL staff at Oakington and while under escort.
GSL was set up in 1990 as part of Group 4 to manage its immigration and criminal justice businesses, at a time when prison services started to be outsourced to the private sector. With the merger of Group 4 and Securicor in 2004, however, it was necessary for GSL to be ‘divested’ due to competition laws and was, thus, acquired by private equity firms Cognetas and Englefield. In May last year, G4S Plc announced the acquisition of GSL again as part of its new strategy of “accelerated growth”. G4S acquired the entire issued share capital of GSL, through its holding company De Facto 1119 Ltd (De Facto), for a total consideration of £355 million, payable in cash on completion. The acquisition means that all GSL businesses will be branded G4S within 12 months and G4S UK Justice and GSL Care and Justice will be merged into one integrated service (see their integration strategy here).