Britain’s public information regulator has instructed the Home Office to release documents detailing how two of the country’s biggest immigration detention centres which are privately-run.
The “potentially damaging” reports provide detailed information into the running of Hardmondsworth and Colnbrook, both near Heathrow, the Guardian reports.
The monthly reports are prepared by the private contractors for the benefit of Home Office officials.
The Home Office has fought to prevent their release for more than 10 months after the research group Corporate Watch lodged a freedom of information request.
The government argued that releasing the “confidential” documents “would harm the commercial interests” of the contractors Serco and GEO Group, the Guardian reveals.
Following a lengthy legal battle by Corporate Watch, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says that while it agreed that the commercial interests of the companies would be harmed, the public interest in transparency in how these detention centres are run was more important.
The ICO has given the Home Office until 13 July to release the reports.
Phil Miller, a researcher for Corporate Watch, told the Guardian: “The ICO’s decision sends a strong signal to the government to be far more transparent on outsourced contracts.
“Home Office bureaucrats should not shield private security companies from public scrutiny”.
In a document detailing the reasons for its ruling, the ICO said the operation of immigration removal centres (IRCs) in general is an issue that has been the subject of concern.
In its decision, the ICO also cited a report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons which criticized the running of both Colnbrook and Hardmondsworth, in particular the “inadequate focus on the needs of the most vulnerable detainees” and the “shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost”.
The ICO said: “Given this publicly available criticism of the operation of these centres, the commissioner’s view is that there is in general a very strong public interest in other information about their operation.”
The ICO added: “It is also highly relevant that the contractors are paid with public money to operate these IRCs.
“The disclosure of the self-audit reports would add to public knowledge on the extent to which a value-for-money service is being provided to the taxpayer, which is also in the public interest.
Furthermore, all of the factors in favour of disclosure are made more acute by the vulnerable nature of people held within IRCs.”
According to Channel 4 News, the number of reports of serious self-harm at Harmondsworth have increased almost fourfold since 2012 – rising from 16 in 2012 to 62 in 2014.
The number of self-harm incidents across all UK immigration detention centres more than doubled in the same period.
The two reports that the Home Office has been ordered to publish date from May 2014, when more than 100 detainees reportedly went on hunger strike at Harmondsworth.
At that time, it was being run by the American company GEO Group.
Responsibility for Harmondsworth’s operation has now passed to Mitie after it won the contract. Colnbrook is still run by Serco.