Detention charities have called on Suella Braverman to launch an urgent independent investigation into the disturbances at a Heathrow immigration removal centre over the weekend after a power cut.
In a letter sent to the home secretary and senior Home Office officials on Tuesday the charities Bail For Immigration Detainees and Medical Justice said the investigation should be launched without delay to find out exactly what had happened at Harmondsworth detention centre and to ascertain the conditions the detainees encountered when deprived of electricity, heating, running water and toilet facilities during the power cut.
The disturbance began after people on one wing refused to return to their cells on Friday evening in protest over the living conditions they were being subjected to during the outage.
Some said they stopped eating and drinking so they could avoid having to use the toilet. A second group of people said they went out into the exercise yard to get some fresh air and then were locked out there for several hours. Home Office sources deny that the gates were locked.
One detainee who spoke to the Guardian accused the Home Office of subjecting people to conditions that should not exist in a first world country like the UK.
The minister for immigration, Robert Jenrick, said the “perpetrators” of the disturbance “would be held to account and, where appropriate, removed from the country as swiftly as is practicable”.
The letter to the home secretary states: “We understand that this situation caused anxiety and distress to many detained people. One of our clients reported that he called out several times about his mental health and no one came.”
The charities said in the letter that they believed being locked up for an extended period was a breach of detainees’ human rights. “What we saw on the weekend was a manifest failure in the duty of care,” they write.
The letter asks Braverman and her officials to answer 20 questions about the disturbances and the conditions. Home Office sources told the Guardian, after the disturbances at the weekend, that they were unable to confirm if an investigation had begun.
Rudy Schulkind, of Bail for Immigration Detainee, said: “Human beings should never be locked up without running water, hot food, heating, electricity or access to the toilet. This may well constitute a grave human rights violation.
“Rather than acknowledge any responsibility whatsoever for what has happened the government has made shamelessly bullish comments about punishment of those who protested against this disgraceful treatment. We call on the government to launch a full independent investigation as a matter of urgency.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.