Seven key findings from the Shaw report on UK immigration detention

Pregnant women and torture victims at risk of violence and sexual assault


Credit: Greens MPs, Flickr


The Home Office has published the long-awaited independent “Shaw Review” into the treatment of vulnerable people in UK immigration detention.

It found evidence of sexual predation and human rights abuses in a largely ineffective system that jails pregnant women and torture victims.


7 key findings from report on UK immigration detention

The independent inquiry was led by former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw. Below are some of the main points from his 350-page report:


1. Only 15% of suspected torture victims released last year

Detaining torture victims is against UK law. Doctors in detention centres are required to file a Rule 35(3) report to the Home Office if they believe a detainee is a victim of torture.

However, from July 2014 to March 2015, only 15 per cent of Rule 35(3) reports made to the Home Office resulted in someone’s release.

Mr. Shaw concludes:

“It is abundantly clear to me therefore, that rule 35 does not do what it was intended to do – that is, to protect vulnerable people who find  themselves in detention […] I recommend that the Home Office immediately consider an alternative to the current rule“.



2. Centre for families with young children should be closed or repurposed 

Mr Shaw urgently recommended that the G4S-run Cedars centre near Gatwick Airport be closed or repurposed. He said the centre was “an exceptional facility”, but that it is hardly ever used and was empty on the two occasions he visited it.

Only 20 families passed through the vastly expensive “pre-departure accommodation” in mid 2014-2015. Of those, about half were released back into the UK. Mr Shaw writes:

“My overriding impression was of a misdirection of public money that could be better used for other purposes […] The current use of the centre is simply unacceptable at a time of financial austerity.”

A whistleblower told the Crawley News in February 2015 that the centre cost £8m to build and had an 80-strong staff despite being empty half the time. At the start of last year, the Home Office admitted it only hosted 209 families for short stays in three-and-a-half years.



3. Pregnant women should never be detained

While there is a clear ban on detaining torture victims, there is currently no ban on detaining pregnant women, despite the fact that several women have miscarried in detention.



“In the vast majority of cases, the detention of pregnant women does not result in their removal,” Mr. Shaw observes. “In these circumstances, I am strongly of the view that the presumptive exclusion from detention should be replaced with an absolute exclusion.”

The report also calls for greater restrictions on detaining victims of sexual violence and rape, transgender people, and people with PTSD and learning difficulties.


4. Women in short-term holding facilities at risk of sexual predation

Unlike immigration removal centres, there are no rules whatsoever governing short-term holding facilities (STHF), where women and men are held together for up to seven days.

Mr. Shaw describes visiting a short term holding facility at Heathrow’s Terminal 2:

“During my visit, two male detainees were seen to get progressively more direct in their attentions to a female detainee. The female detainee was only moved to the quieter area at my team’s suggestion.”

The report also repeats the Chief Inspector of Prison’s recent concerns about Pennine House STHF at Manchester Airport. It says that “although women had separate rooms, they could not lock their doors and told us they felt insecure about sharing communal areas with men.”

The report recommends that rules for Short Term Holding Facilities be immediately introduced.



5. UK courts found immigration detention system breached human rights 

Mr. Shaw said he is “acutely concerned” that UK judges have ruled in five cases since 2010 that the detention system breached Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. These rulings are separate from the many times that detention was ruled unlawful.

Article 3 prohibits torture and inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment. The review notes, “it is one of the most important Articles in the Convention, and the threshold for finding a breach is understandably a very high one.”


6. Detention centres are too much like prisons 

Brook House, Colnbrook and Hardmondsworth “have the ‘feel’ and look of contemporary gaols“, writes Mr. Shaw. He describes Yarl’s Wood as being “characterised by long corridors and an absence of natural light”.

The anti-suicide netting at Brook House, similar to that used in prisons such as Pentonville, has already thwarted one suicide attempt since its construction in June 2015.

Some former prisoners thought detention centres were worse. Ex-Foreign National Offenders transferred to Campsfield detention centre from prison were troubled by the relative lack of comfort as they “found it difficult to transition from a single room in prison to sharing with four or five others”.

Dungavel detention centre holds women in dormitories of six to eight beds.



7. Detention is overused and ineffective

“There is too much detention” the review concludes; “detention is not a particularly effective means of ensuring that those with no right to remain do in fact leave the UK; and many practices and processes associated with detention are in urgent need of reform”.

Mr Shaw says the government should reduce the size of the detention estate “boldly and without delay”.



Do you know any more about abuse at UK immigration detention centres? If so, please email us at 

2 Comments on “Seven key findings from the Shaw report on UK immigration detention”

  1. […] can find Prison Watch UK’s coverage of the key findings of the Shaw Review here, here and […]


  2. […] conduct a short review of general progress made in the UK immigration detention system since his 2015 review, answered Robert Goodwill, the Immigration […]


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