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Failures over use of ‘filthy’ barracks for asylum seekers – inspectors

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THERE were “fundamental failures” over accommodating asylum seekers in former military barracks, parts of which were “filthy”, inspectors have said.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons visited Penally Camp in Pembrokeshire and Napier Barracks in Kent. They said both sites were “run-down”.

In a preliminary report seen by The Herald the inspectors said at both locations residents described feeling trapped in poor conditions. They feared that if they moved out they would jeopardise their only source of support and possibly their asylum cases, it was concluded.

Inspectors added: “We met many men who described feeling depressed and hopeless at their circumstances. In our resident survey, all of those who responded at Napier and the vast majority at Penally said they had felt depressed at some points.

“At both sites about a third of respondents said they had mental health problems; about a third of respondents at Napier said they had felt suicidal.”

Home Secretary has been asked by Plaid Cymru to consider her position (Image: File)

However, Home Secretary Priti Patel and immigration minister Chris Philp have both previously defended the use of such sites.

There have been repeated demonstrations in both Pembrokeshire and in Kent by people from both ends of the political spectrum, and by local residents, causing security costs to spiral.

On Monday evening (Mar 8), the department repeated its assertion that “it is wrong to say it is not adequate for asylum seekers”

Naomi Phillips, director of policy and advocacy at British Red Cross, said: “These sites are completely inappropriate and inhumane as housing for people fleeing war, persecution and violence.

“The people we’ve spoken to in Penally have told us that they didn’t receive health screenings, were given little or no information about what was happening to them, and simply do not feel safe in the barracks.

“Our worst fears about the impact on people’s mental health have been realised.”

The cost of policing the camp has been higher than expected, running into millions of pounds (Pic Herald)

The BBC is reporting Labour has said the findings are “utterly unbelievable”, and Plaid Cymru called for Home Secretary Priti Patel to “consider her position”.

Inspectors said both sites – which witnessed protests over living conditions in January – were “run-down and unsuitable”, but particularly criticised Napier.

They said given the cramped, communal conditions, “once one person was infected with Covid a large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable” at the site.

Many men said they were depressed, and a survey found a third of respondents at both sites had mental health problems, while a third at Napier had felt suicidal.

Reacting to the findings, Detention Action director Bella Sankey said: “This is the sort of report that should make decent people consider their positions.”

She called for the barracks to be closed immediately and for “those responsible fully held to account”.

Police and protestors in stand off in Penally in 2020 (Pic: Herald)

Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “At a time when the Home Secretary and Permanent Secretary have told us they are making major changes to improve the culture and the humanity of the department in response to the Wendy Williams Windrush review, this report shows they haven’t yet learnt the lessons.”

Shadow immigration minister, Holly Lynch, said: “The Home Secretary has recklessly put the lives of all those staying at the sites, those working there, and the surrounding communities, at risk during a pandemic.”

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said Ms Patel “must consider her position” in the wake of the report, which highlighted “fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office”.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “During these unprecedented times we have met our statutory duty to provide asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, with suitable accommodation and three meals a day all paid for by the British taxpayer.

“We expect the highest possible standards from our service providers and have instructed them to make improvements at the site.”

The Home Office has said people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach rather than making the crossings, and has said illegal migrants are being returned to safe countries.

The Home Office also said it had instructed service providers to make improvements to both camps. The government department has also said it is winding down use of the camps. In Pembrokeshire the policing costs alone have exceeded a million pounds.

Rooms in the camp were said to be too small for social distancing (Pic: Camp user)

 

Penally camp: Unsuitable in its current condition, said inspectors

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Trial of Haverfordwest primary school teacher starts at Swansea Crown Court

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher who is accused of sexually abusing eleven children thinks he is a victim of a witch hunt by the police, a jury has heard.

But at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (Apr 12), the Clare Wilks for the prosecution said that the defendant had “abused the trust of parents and staff” by sexually touching children in his care.

James Oulton, denies 30 charges of sexual assault against the eleven children who were aged eight or nine years old at the time.

The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

The jury heard how the pupils, now aged between 11 and 17, claimed he touched them sexually.

But the court was also told that Mr Oulton claimed he received cards at the end of term, and he believed letters sent by Pembrokeshire council to parents encouraged false complaints and collusion between pupils.

Oulton, 34, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, told the court he had behaved appropriately.

The jury heard how the alleged abuse occurred while Mr Oulton was working at a primary school in Haverfordwest.

Clare Wilks, prosecuting, said some of the children alleged that they had been assaulted on a daily basis, while others had had given statements to say it only happened the one time.

The trial continues.

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Kill the Bill protest to take place in Haverfordwest on Saturday

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INDIVIDUALS and activists from local groups, including Extinction Rebellion Pembrokeshire, Stand Up to Racism West Wales, Pembrokeshire People’s Assembly and Reclaim These Streets Pembrokeshire are campaigning against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and are to hold a demonstration against the Bill at 1pm this Saturday April 17, in Haverfordwest.
One of the organisers told  The Herald: “This is an enormous piece of draconian legislation that includes significant expansion in police powers to curtail the right to protest. The right to peacefully assemble and protest are a fundamental part of any democracy; empowering people to have their voices heard, in addition to holding the Government to account. These rights are universal –they protect peaceful and legitimate protest whatever the cause.
“The events at the Clapham vigil and at demonstrations over the last few weeks are a dangerous indication of what the future of protest will look like if the police powers bill gets through parliament.”
A local campaigner, a mother and grandmother said “We are in the process of losing a fundamental part of our democracy, It is important we protect it for future generations. We have messed up so much of their future already-we need to hold the Government to account”.
Aspects of the Bill include:
  • The power for Police forces to shut down protests that they deem too disruptive at their own discretion.
  • Up to a 10-year sentence for demonstrators considered to be causing a “public nuisance”.
  • The power for police forces to impose start and end times on static protests of any size.
  • The power to expand stop and search powers, which already discriminate against marginalised communities. If you live in the Dyfed Powys police area, you are 5 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than white.
  • Up to 10-year sentences for damage to public monuments’ Police powers will be expanded and custodial sentences increased to “protect” women.
  • These measures are not sufficient to prevent violence and are troubling, considering some police officers’ involvement in cases of violence against women. Significant restrictions on where protests around Parliament may take place.
  • The elevation of trespass from a civil offence to a criminal offence, meaning police and courts can give harsh sentences to Travellers.
  • Increased power of police to seize vehicles and homes from Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities and demanding proof of permission to travel.
  • The bill will criminalise a way of life for these communities.
A peaceful, Covid-compliant march and rally will be taking place in Haverfordwest on Saturday April 17 , assembling at Picton Fields at 1pm.
People will be asked to wear masks and keep to social distancing regulations.  It is one of a number of protests being organised nationally on the same day against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill.
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Everything you need to know about the current coronavirus restrictions in Wales

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THE GOVERNMENT guidelines in Wales are changing today (Apr 12).

There are major changes coming into force today across the country as the government coronavirus guidelines are starting to relax.

The changes affect household bubbles, non-essential retail, education and travel.

As of Monday, April 12, the following changes have come into force:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet and exercise outdoors and in private gardens
  • Households or support bubbles can holiday in self-contained accommodation – including hotels with en-suite facilities
  • All pupils and students can now return to school, college and other education
  • All shops and close-contact services can open
  • The ban on travelling in and out of Wales has ended
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (Remainder on April 22)

Non-essential retail are able to open up today for the first time since the country was put into a national lockdown with non-essential retail ordered to close in December of last year.

With infection rates falling and the national vaccine rollout success, the Welsh Government have set out a road map of restriction easing.

Unlike England, the hospitality industry in Wales will have to wait until April 26 to open their doors to customers, but only for those who can operate in an outdoor space such as beer gardens.

The current guidelines in force for Wales are as follows:

Meeting friends and family

From May 3:

  • Two families can once again form an “extended household” and meet indoors.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet up outdoors, including gardens.
  • If you are an adult living alone or you’re a single responsible adult in a household (a single parent, for instance), you can form a support bubble with one other household.
  • You can also end it and form another support bubble with a different household, as long as you leave a 10-day gap between.

Going to work

  • You must work from home if you can. The only exceptions will be critical workers and jobs where working from home is not possible.
  • Tradespeople can work in someone else’s private home, as long as it is managed in a safe way and both the worker and household members are well and have no symptoms of coronavirus.

Schools and nurseries

  • All pupils will return to face-to-face teaching at school from 12 April.
  • From that date all students can return to further education and training centres.
  • University campuses will be able to open for blended (face-to face and online) learning for all students.
  • Internal GCSE, A-level and AS-level assessments have been cancelled.

Leisure time

From April 26:

  • Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks, will be allowed to reopen.
  • Outdoor hospitality can resume, including at cafes, pubs and restaurants, but indoor hospitality will remain restricted.

From May 3:

  • Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can again take place.
  • Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. This will include individual or one-to-one training but not exercise classes.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Self-contained holiday accommodation, including hotels with en-suite facilities and room service, can open to people from the same household or support bubble.
  • Outdoor sports facilities such as golf, tennis and basketball are open. A maximum of six people from two households can take part.
  • Organised outdoor sport for under-18s can now take place.
  • All gyms and leisure centres are closed.
  • Professional sports will continue but stadiums are closed to fans.
  • Bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs are closed – except for takeaway and delivery.
  • The outdoor areas of some historic places and gardens can reopen in a limited way.
  • Libraries and archives can reopen

Shopping

From April 12:

  • All shops can reopen.
  • All close contact services such as hairdressers or beauty salons can open, including mobile services.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Hairdressers and barbers are open for business – by appointment only.
  • Non-essential shops remain closed.
  • Garden centres are now open.
  • Alcohol cannot be sold in shops between 22:00 and 06:00 BST.
  • Face coverings must be worn by customers and staff.
  • Indoor shopping should be done alone, or with people in your household.

Other

From April 12:

  • You can travel anywhere in the UK or the Common Travel Area (Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands)
  • Outdoor canvassing for the Welsh elections can begin.
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (remainder on 22 April).

From April 26:

  • Weddings receptions can take place outdoors, but will be limited to 30 people.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Weddings and civil partnerships can take place at licensed venues, but receptions are not allowed.
  • Care home residents can receive one designated visitor.
  • You can travel anywhere within Wales.
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