Despite reported cases of rampant abuse and sexual misconduct by staff at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, which Serco has been running since 2007, as well as six prisons in Britain, the private firm has been awarded a lucrative £200 million contract by the Home Office to run a further two immigration removal centres.
Serco will take charge of Brook House and Tinsley House which are both currently run by G4S and are situated close to Gatwick airport in West Sussex
In September 2017, the BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the G4S-run centre.
Last year G4S was fined £19 million after it overcharged the Government to carry out electronic tagging, prompting an audit of its contracts, Presstv Reported.
Two of its former directors are being prosecuted and are due to stand trial next year accused of fraud and false accounting.
The contract is to run for eight years from May 2020 with a 2 year extension option.
In a recent court hearing a Nigerian woman gave a harrowing description of having been thrown to the floor “like a bag of cement” in Yarl’s Wood, in an incident involving 11 Serco guards.
In 2014 Serco was forced to publish an internal report into claims of repeated sexual assaults at one of its immigration detention centres, which revealed the company’s investigations into claims made by a female resident of Yarl’s Wood against a male employee
The claims made by a 29-year-old woman from Pakistan remain unproven following investigations by police and the Home Office.
At the time, former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken MacDonald QC said: “Here, the suggestion is that in the face of credible allegations that a member of their staff had committed repeated sexual assaults on an especially vulnerable inmate, Serco conducted an inadequate investigation in secret and then did everything they could to hide their findings from the public.”
Harriet Wistrich, the lawyer representing the alleged victim, said: “The failure of the investigatory process affects not only the complainant but all women detained at Yarl's Wood, since it allows abuse to continue and thrive.”
Norman Abusin, Serco's director at Yarl's Wood, said:
“Sexual contact between residents and staff is always completely unacceptable. We view any complaint of this type of behaviour extremely seriously and have strict procedures for dealing with any such complaints: they are always investigated and the necessary disciplinary action is always taken, including informing the relevant authorities.
“Our managers and staff work hard to establish and maintain good relationships with the residents. The most recent HM Chief Inspector of Prisons inspection report, issued in October 2013, considered it to be an establishment where residents feel safe and there is little violence.
“However, we are not complacent and make continuous improvements to the services we provide.”
Serco claimed it had a “great deal of experience of caring for people in the immigration system both in the UK and internationally” and it "understood the sensitivity and complexity of this role” and was “committed to ensuring that there is a healthy, decent environment in the centres”.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “This contract is a major step forward in our programme of immigration detention reform. It will significantly improve the day-to-day lives of detainees and the staff who support them."
Alice, one of about 300 women held at Yarl's Wood, where people with disputed immigration status can be detained without a defined time limit, described her experience of the system.
"The staff will not do anything until someone is dead," she said.
"It is not a place for a human being. People leave here with more problems than when they came."
She said her room "smells like sewage" and the food was "so horrible I stopped eating it".
"The food we get, we can see the expiry dates; even the milk has gone off."
She has since been released from detention after six months to continue the immigration process.