Described as frail and suffering from dementia, an 84-year-old Canadian man held against doctor’s orders in a British immigration detention centre died in handcuffs that weren’t removed until his heart stopped beating, a new prison inspector’s report alleges.
Alois Dvorzac was brought to the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near London’s Heathrow Airport after he was refused entry to the country on Jan. 23, 2013. On Feb. 10, he was taken to hospital where he died after being restrained by handcuffs for about five hours, the report states.
A spokesperson for the British Home Office confirmed Thursday that Dvorzac is the 84-year-old mentioned repeatedly in the report, but would not comment on why the Canadian was detained in the first place.
The death is being investigated by the U.K Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.
“The use of restraint in this case seems completely unjustified and must not be repeated,” Britain’s immigration minister Mark Harper said in a media release, adding that the government will be “scrutinizing” how GEO Group U.K. Ltd., the company that runs the holding centre, responds to recommendations in the report.
The use of restraint in this case seems completely unjustified and must not be repeated.
“Clearly, performance by the contractor running Harmondsworth has been below the high standard expected. This report makes a number of recommendations that we will be taking forward and I expect to see significant improvement.”
Canada’s foreign affairs department did not respond to a list of questions from the Star on Thursday, and would not comment on media reports that Dvorzac had been travelling to find his estranged daughter in Slovenia, appealing to the “privacy of the individual concerned.”
“Our thoughts are with the family of the Canadian deceased in the UK. Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities concerning the matter,” said spokesman Mathieu Roy in an emailed statement.
GEO Group made a statement Thursday describing its policy of using handcuffs on inmates travelling outside the facility when there is a documented risk that they’ll flee.
The report, however, criticizes the company for using them too much.
“Elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, were needlessly handcuffed in an excessive and unacceptable manner,” wrote the report’s author, U.K. chief prison inspector Nick Hardwick, noting that another prisoner was handcuffed while sedated and dying in hospital in November 2012.
In a third instance, an inmate using a wheelchair after having a stroke was “handcuffed on a journey to the hospital, for no obvious reason,” the report says.
“These are shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost,” Hardwick wrote, concluding that the privately-run holding centre needs “to be a refocusing on individual needs of the most vulnerable people in detention, some of whom had been utterly failed by the system.”
Harmondsworth opened in 2001 as a refurbished immigration holding centre that can hold 661 male inmates. It is managed by GEO Group on a contract through the U.K. Border Agency.
The inspection report describes how Dvorzac was denied entry to Britain last January, and detained at Harmondsworth after a stay in hospital. Days later, a doctor declared the Canadian “unfit for detention or deportation” and that he “requires social care.”
An immigration case worker responded late on Feb. 5, but acknowledged the man’s vulnerability and lack of contacts in the U.K.,” the report states.
After an attempt to remove him was called off due to his health, Dvorzac died on Feb. 10, handcuffed until his heart stopped and efforts to revive him began, according to the report.
“He had not been released and, despite his vulnerability, no referral had been made to social services to have his care needs assessed.”
The British prisons ombudsman has investigated deaths at Harmondsworth before. The ombudsman’s website lists two completed inquiries into hanging deaths that occurred in the prison 2004 and 2006, the first of which caused an inmate riot.
A second riot broke out in 2006, after then-chief prison inspector Anne Owens described her Harmondsworth report that year as “undoubtedly the poorest” her agency has ever issued on an immigration holding centre.