Exclusive: Prisons inspectorate warned Home Office of potentially illegal detentions at Manston months ago

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An inspection in July highlighted case of unaccompanied children being detained for more than 24 hours, even before the current issues with overcrowding

The Home Office was made aware of issues with people being held for “unacceptable” periods of time at the Manston detention facility in Kent months ago, a new report reveals.

A report carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) in late July raised concerns about people and unaccompanied children in particular being held for more than 24 hours at the facility.

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A source at the inspectorate confirmed that Home Office staff on site are made aware of any findings from the visit before inspectors conclude the visit, while a full copy of the report is sent to the Home Office eight weeks after the visit.

This means that the inspectorate warned staff on site at Manston more than three months ago about the issue of extended stays, while Home Office leadership were made aware of the issues by around the third week in September. Although the inspection took place while Priti Patel was Home Secretary, the report would have been sent to the Home Office during Suella Braverman’s first tenure in the role.

What did the HMIP inspection find at Manston?

HMIP carried out an unannounced inspection of Manston between 25-28 July and raised a number of serious concerns based on the findings.

The Manston migrant site is only designed to hold 1,000 people at one time but there are currently 4,000 migrants there. Hundreds more were moved to the facility on Sunday (30 October), following a petrol bomb attack at the Border Force migrant centre in Dover.

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Back in July, the inspectorate found that “exhausted detainees were regularly held for more than 24 hours,” and that the average length of detention for unaccompanied children was 27 hours, with the one child present during their visit held for 48 hours.

They also noted that these timescales likely underestimated the true length of detention periods, as the total length of detention throughout the process was not recorded.

While ministers have presented the issues with people being held beyond the legal time limit at Manston as a recent problem which has emerged in the last few weeks, the report suggests ministers would have been aware of the problem for months.

The report notes that Home Office data showed that in the three months to June 2022, 4,161 people passed through Manston and 636 had been held for more than 24 hours. While current reports suggest some people have been detained there for weeks, the inspectorate noted at the time that the longest time of detention at Manston was “more than 70 hours,” adding that this was “unacceptable for a non-residential facility”.

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The inspectorate noted that people were often not provided access to telephones, which would enable them to acquire legal support, and said it was “particularly disappointing once again to see exhausted detainees forced to sleep on floor mats between rows of seats or on wooden benches”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the report’s finding that there have been considerable improvements to the infrastructure and processes in place to accommodate record numbers of people arriving in the UK illegally via small boats.

“As a result of these numbers, our asylum system has been put under incredible strain, but we recognise there is more to do to provide alternative accommodation for people arriving in the UK. We continue to work hard to resolve the current pressures at Manston as an urgent priority.

“Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely, and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible.”

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Suella Braverman ‘made a very bad decision’

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, who visited Manston in recent days, alleged that the overcrowding situation was allowed to happen “deliberately” by the Home Office, telling NationalWorld: “This has been allowed to happen because the Home Secretary made a very bad decision. Namely, not booking hotels for migrants to be transferred to despite advice she received five weeks ago.” He insisted the facility was “working fine” before.

Critics have said Braverman and her predecessor Patel failed to book hotel spaces for migrants to move to after processing, a failure which Sir Roger told NationalWorld was “wholly lamentable”. He argued that “whoever is responsible, either the previous Home Secretary (Priti Patel) or this one, has to be held to account.”

Braverman has also been accused of failing to act on legal advice which stated that the length of time people are being detained at Manston is unlawful, according to the Sunday Times.

Recent reports suggest people - including children - have been there for weeks, while the inspectorate’s report suggests the problem has rapidly escalated in recent months, raising questions about why more was not done to address the problem sooner.

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Commenting on current processing speeds, Sir Roger Gale told NationalWorld they are “so slow it’s ludicrous.”

A Home Office spokesperson said in response to the allegations against Braverman: “The Home Secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation. Claims advice was deliberately ignored are completely baseless.”

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