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Big Macs ferried in after rioting inmates run amok in immigration detention centre

UK Daily Mail | July 26, 2007
MATTEW HICKLEY and JAMES SLACK

Rioting foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers were fed McDonald's takeaway meals by prison staff during a £60million orgy of destruction which wrecked an immigration detention centre.

Fearful that the human rights of inmates would be breached, staff ferried sackfuls of Big Mac meals with fries and soft drinks from a nearby branch of the fast-food chain.

The revelation came in a damning official report into the riot at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport last November. More than 500 inmates awaiting deportation wrecked and burned down much of the site, and it took riot squads almost two days to regain control. The report also reveals:

Walls and doors in the centre were so flimsy that inmates kicked them down with ease, especially after they were soaked by the sprinkler system;

The fire brigade got lost because there were no signposts to the centre;

CCTV cameras were easy for rioters to destroy - meaning control room staff had no idea what was going on;

Increasingly desperate calls to the Prison Service headquarters begging for help were ignored for an hour.

The official Home Office investigation blames the riot partly on the huge pressure on the centre after last summer's foreign prisoners scandal.

Hundreds of foreign national criminals were rounded up after being released from Britain's jails without being considered for deportation.

Of the 501 men in the detention centre at the time 177 were foreign prisoners awaiting deportation - a volatile group who had 'nothing to lose'. The riot was triggered by inmates watching a TV news bulletin reporting criticisms of Harmondsworth from prison watchdogs.

Fires were started and inmates began smashing CCTV cameras and attacking staff, who were unable to contain the violence.

As control room managers lost their grip, staff were ordered to retreat and seal the gates, as police arrived to guard the perimeter.

Thirteen riot squads entered the centre next morning but took more than 24 hours to regain control.

During the day a row broke out between senior officials over whether to send food in for rioters. Those who favoured starving inmates into submission were overruled, as managers ordered that 'minimum needs of food and drink' must be supplied.

"In the early stages food came from McDonald's," according to the report by senior civil servant Robert Whalley.

Yesterday the Daily Mail tracked down a worker at the West Drayton branch of McDonald's who recalled Harmondsworth staff placing a huge order for £3.59 burger meals.

He said: "I remember prison officers turning up and ordering around 100 Big Mac meals with fries and fizzy drinks. For a couple of hours they kept turning up with big bags, filling them up with meals and then ferrying them off in Securicor vans and then they'd return for more."

The Home Office was last night unable to provide details of the cost of the emergency supplies. The cost of dealing with the riot and rebuilding large parts of Harmondsworth is expected to top £65million.

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: "This situation required a fast response, and all they got was fast food.

"We now know that this dangerous incident happened because the Government was forced to mix foreign prisoners with failed asylum seekers. Because of prison overcrowding, this is still going on."

Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, said work was under way to 'expand and strengthen' removal centres.

The Home Office said that five detainees had been charged and remanded in custody in connection with the riot.

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