By Kam Sandhu @KamBass
G4S is a multinational security company, boasting operations in over 120 countries. It is the world’s third largest employer, and in their words ‘the leading global integrated security company specialising in the provision of security products, services and solutions.’
The use of G4S’ services in the UK seem to primarily be two-fold. Their ‘cash solutions’ provide security for financial institutions in the transportation of currency, and their remit has grown to provide ‘consultancy services to central banks and commercial banks on overall cash management strategy, bank note production and security and all aspects of cash cycle efficiency.’
Secondly, while guarding the wealth of institutions, G4S are also handed the ‘care’ of our most marginalised, vulnerable and economically alienated – rushingly contracted to them by government in large scale privatisation of public services.
Here, an alleviation of government accountability, with a new driving force searching for profit from the vulnerable, and the manufactured blind spots that come when political and media debate is so committed to maintaining the marginalised, to derision, vilification, dehumanisation and misrepresentation of BME groups, refugees, immigrants, low income groups and individuals, juveniles, young offenders, here, private unaccountable companies have been given authority.
While the importance of securitising wealth is treated with utmost secrecy and protection, the care of these groups is frequently troped with humiliation, degradation, violence, racism and abuse.
Jimmy Mubenga came to the UK with his wife, Adrienne Makenda Kambana, in 1996, but when a nightclub brawl saw him jailed in 2006 for actual bodily harm, the Angolan faced deportation to his home country. Mubenga fought extradition until 2010.
When boarding his flight on October 12 2010, Mubenga became agitated and aggressive after a phone call.
Three G4S guards responded by handcuffing Mubenga behind his back, forcing him into a seat and pinning him down so that he was leaning forward, keeping him in this position for over half an hour. Some of the passengers said they heard Mubenga shouting ‘I can’t breathe.’ However, all 3 G4S guards deny hearing him say this.
Mubenga died as a result of being forcibly restrained by Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52 and Stuart Tribelnig, 39 – while the plane at Heathrow was trying to take off.
Initially, there was to be no trial when the Crown Prosecution Service cited a lack of sufficient evidence to pursue the case. However, when an inquest jury in 2011 concluded the case was an ‘unlawful killing’, a Prosecution was brought.
One passenger, Nick Herbig, told the court: ‘He was saying “All you people are watching them kill me. I can’t breathe. they are going to kill me.”
Prosecutor, Mark Dennis QC, told the court:
“Each officer would have known from their training and from common sense that keeping someone in such a position was likely to cause a person harm yet they did so over a prolonged period and did so ignoring shouts from Mr Mubenga that he was in trouble. “‘I can’t breathe’ shouts were heard by many a passenger seated further away.”
There were several pieces of evidence that were controversially kept from the trial in 2014;
“Racist texts exchanged between 2 of the 3 guards on trial for manslaughter, and knowledge of ‘carpet karaoke’ a practice used by G4S escorts, as revealed by whistleblowers, involving the forced head down restraint of deportees which restricted breathing.”
Evidence of ‘reprehensible conduct’ is allowed to form part of a criminal trial at the discretion of the judge. However, in this case, the judge said the texts would ‘release an unpredictable cloud of prejudice on the trial’ and as the texts also included misogyny and homophobia, he felt women and gay people in the jury could be offended and thus have an undue effect on their judgement.
This was against the advice of the coroner who said; “The potential impact on detainees of a racist culture, is that detainees and deportees are not ‘personalised’. This may, self-evidently, result in a lack of empathy and respect for their dignity and humanity potentially putting their safety at risk, especially if force is used against them.”
“Fuck off and go home you free-loading, benefit-grabbing, kid-producing, violent, non-English speaking cocksuckers and take those hairy-faced, sandal-wearing, bomb-making, goat-fucking, smelly raghead bastards with you”.
A text sent by Stuart Tribelnig, kept from the trial
The coroner believed with-holding the texts prohibited an understanding of context for the trial, and failed to provide evidence which would help decide whether the guards acted with respect and professionalism as they had themselves said.
The 3 guards were cleared of manslaughter in 2014 following a 6 week trial.
Migrants’ Rights Network said in a statement following the decision; “This finding will do little to ease ongoing concerns about the treatment of migrants within immigration detention and during deportations from the UK. There have been widespread allegations of excessive force used against migrants during immigration removals over the past decade – a problem reportedly linked to the state outsourcing of immigration detention to private security companies.”
A closer look at the global track record of G4S’ human rights abuses, and use of force against the marginalised provides yet more disturbing evidence, and raises questions over the reasons why this company has been so utilised and prioritised by the UK government. Instances include (from RealFare):
- G4S bought two major Israeli private security companies (Hashmira in 2002 – now G4S Israel – and Aminut Moked Artzi in 2010) and signed a contract with the Israeli Prison Authority and are now providing security and prison services in Israel and the Occupied Territories, including:
- providing security for the apartheid wall
- providing services to a number of prisons and a detention facility in Israel: Israeli prisons house detainees who have been transferred from arrest in the Occupied Territories, which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, along with Palestinian child detainees. Violence, torture and detention without trial are all known to take place at these prisons and family visits are often very difficult to obtain.
- 2014: violence broke out at Manus Island immigration detention centre – Australia. Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati, was killed and 79 other people were seriously injured. G4S were ‘directly responsible’ for the violence in which their staff directly participated and ‘went on what can only be described as a violent rampage’. G4S staff running the detention centre were also ‘grossly under-trained’.
- 2014 – 79 year old disabled former serviceman awarded £6000 damages after suffering humiliation at the hands of G4S prison officers
- 2014 – G4S criticised for using immigration detainees as cheap labour, paying as little as £1 per hour for cooking and cleaning duties
- 2013 – G4S were running Mangaung prison in South Africa where they were accused of ‘shocking’ abuses (including electric shocks and forced injections). South African government temporarily took control from G4S to investigate allegations.
- 2011 – G4S fined $285,000 for its involvement in the death of Mr Ward, an Aboriginal elder who died of heatstroke while being transported in a prison van.
- 2010 Khu Mlotshwa, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker, sustained a broken wrist whilst being deportedfrom the UK by G4S guards.
- 2009 – An armed guard employed by G4S in Iraq murdered two colleagues and was employed there despite warnings of his violent behaviour
Still G4S have been handed some of our largest infrastructure and the care of thousands. In 2012, G4S was handed the first private prison, HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton, Birmingham, with facilities for 1600 inmates.
“We have a very good model for prison development in Oakwood, which opened recently in the West Midlands.
“To my mind, it is an excellent model for the future of the Prison Service.”
Chris Grayling, February 2013, On Oakwood
By July of 2013, Oakwood was one of 2 private prisons to receive the Ministry of Justice’s lowest rating. A surprise inspection in June of the same year would also reveal deep problems.
Prisoners claimed that drugs were easier to source than soap, with one in seven developing a drug problem while inside the prison. In all four of the main tests – ‘safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement – the prison was recorded as either insufficient or poor, the lowest rating.’
The rehabilitation work done at the prison with its some 300 sex offenders was also raising alarm, as the report identified that many were still in denial about their offence.
“A large number of these prisoners were due for release without their offending having been addressed,” the report said.
In 2012, G4S was handed £700m of public sector contracts. Aside from running prisons they were also brought in to run immigration detention centres, provide security in job centres and more.
In one of the contracts, G4S, along with outsource giant Serco, were responsible for supplying, monitoring and applying electronic tags. At the end of 2013, it was revealed that both companies had been overcharging the taxpayer for the number of tags they had administered and had used the names of those dead or imprisoned to bump up their balance sheets to the tune of hundreds of millions. Serco was finally forced to pay back £70m and G4S over £108m. The investigation into this fraud continues.
Two Whistleblowers spoke to IBTimes about their experiences and how the fraud was carried out. Tactics included sending tagging orders for every offence even if the person was already tagged, writing off 100 tags a month (at a cost of £350 per tag), sending officers to offender homes at times they were not allowed to enter, ‘faulty’ and ‘flimsy’ equipment leading to wrongful detainment in custody for curfew breaches and continuing to visit the homes of offenders whom the company knew ‘unofficially’ had been released from tagging orders or were in prison, charging taxpayers until it received official confirmation from courts. The whistleblowers also said that staff morale was very low.
Both companies were banned from bidding on further contracts, but only for a matter of months. This was amidst cries from the Howard League for Penal Reform, amongst others, for an all out ban on allowing G4S and Serco to provide services within the justice system. Their cries were ignored. By 2015, both companies were making healthy profits from public service contracts and the UK had almost doubled its outsourcing from £64bn when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition came to power in 2010 to over £120bn in 2015, making the UK the second largest outsourcing market in the world.
The prison was taken over by new management, and an announced inspection in 2015 revealed that there had been improvements in staff-inmate relationships and the availability of drugs had decreased. Inspectors noted the new Director had taken notice of their recommendations and praised his ‘excellent leadership,’ though there was still work to do.
HMP Oakwood continued to face problems in the form of bullying and use of force by staff which was double that of comparable prisons. Self harm was also raised as a concern amongst inmates.
Some of the most concerning responsibilities of G4S is their involvement in children’s services – a subject which has come to light in a recent televised investigation. But this was by no means the first sign of problems.
In 2004, 15 year old Gareth Myatt died after being restrained by guards at the G4S-run Rainsbrook secure training centre – a detention centre for children.
After refusing to clean a toaster which was used by several other kids, Gareth was sent to his room and locked in. Two officers entered and began confiscating his belongings. When they tried to remove a note with his mother’s new mobile number on, Gareth became angered and was said to raise his fist.
An officer “enveloped” the child and pushed him down onto the bed. Three officers then forced Gareth into a sitting position, bending his chest over his thighs and knees. Gareth was ignored when he cried that he was unable to breathe and was going to defecate, which he did before being sick. When exclaiming that he could not breathe, the G4S guard replied ‘Well, if you are shouting, you can breathe.’
Gareth Myatt was dead within minutes. He had only been in custody for 3 days and it was his first time.
His death was ruled an accident by an inquiry. David Beadnell, one of the guards involved in the restraint was promoted to safety, health and environmental manager for G4S children’s services.
The Guardian reported:
“The prison’s macho culture was exposed at Gareth’s inquest. Restraint trainers had nicknames likeClubber, Crusher, Mauler and Breaker. Children subject to the most physical restraint were dubbed “winners”. It was apparently a common belief among officers that children would lie about being breathless, even though there was a special codeword to immediately halt restraint during staff training exercises in the event of breathing difficulties. In the 12 months before Gareth died, children in Rainsbrook were subjected to exactly the same restraint – called the seated double embrace – on 369 occasions, and life-threatening harm occurred 10% of the time. The inquest jury found that Gareth’s death was an accident, but returned a damning verdict on the failures of the government and the youth justice board to review, monitor and act upon restraint concerns.’
The article went on to explain that rather than encouraging a debate and raising alarm about the use of restraint, private guards and macho culture, parliament was, ten years after Gareth’s death, planning to make larger, cheaper children’s prisons, providing more restraint techniques like those used in adult prisons and allowing the use of these to force children to follow orders.
In 2015 (eleven years after Gareth’s death), HMI Prisons – the criminal justice inspection service which monitors care services for the young, published a review into Rainsbrook centre, deeming it‘inadequate’ – the lowest possible scoring. OFSTED said children at the facility were subjected to‘degrading’,’racist’ and humiliating treatment with some members of staff high on drugs while working.
The youth justice board announced that G4S had lost the contract to run Rainsbrook after 16 years. However, the contract at Medway – the centre investigated in the recent Panorama episode – was renewed at the same time. Rather than attributing this to the results of the earlier reports, Paul Cook – manager of children’s services at G4S highlighted that the procurement process meant that the company could only ‘win’ one of the centres anyway.
In January 2016, a BBC Panorama investigation revealed unnecessary and overt use of restraint and force on children – including pressure on young people’s necks which prohibits breathing, use of foul and degrading language in order to intimidate and frighten, and concealment of this abuse. 4 were arrested after the programme was aired, on suspicion of child neglect. In a statement, Paul Cook, manager of children’s services for G4S said:
“There is no place in our business for the conduct shown on the BBC’s Panorama programme on Monday night.”
No mention was made of the history of the company’s ‘care’ at Rainsbrook.
Cook added that the company would review its own procedures in light of the case, however, the involvement of independent investigations have been batted away. Labour MP Jo Stevens, Shadow Minister for Prisons and Probation wrote to Justice Secretary Michael Gove to demand all G4S run prisons and detention centres be put into special measures. Andy Burnham Shadow Home Secretary, called for G4S to be stripped of its children’s services contracts, and for a review into all justice services handled by G4S. Several other Labour MPs called for an independent investigation into the company.
Michael Gove stepped in to defend G4S, saying he did not want to ‘rush to judgement’ and ‘it would be quite wrong to make a blanket allegation.’ Once again the events at Medway, and the Panorama report, are portrayed as isolated scandals, yet a brief look at very recent history brutally chronicles a commitment to human rights abuses and life threatening force on those in its ‘care.’
While Gove was defending G4S, the company was still undergoing the fraud investigation over the tagging scandal, and yet more disturbing news was to follow, just days after the Panorama episode was aired.
On 20th January, The Times lead with a front page story titled ‘Apartheid on streets of Britain’ detailing how vulnerable asylum seekers in deprived areas of Middlesborough were branded with red doors in order to make them identifiable and subsequently open to abuse.
“They described incidents including the smearing of dog excrement against doors, and eggs and stones being thrown at windows”, Andrew Norfolk of The Times reported.
G4S claimed in a statement that they have never received any complaints or requests from asylum seekers, and Director John Whitwam asserted that there was ‘absolutely no such policy’ in branding houses with red doors. The properties investigated by The Times were owned by property company Jomast – sub-contracted by G4S. Of 168 properties, 155 had red doors, the Times reported.
Now the Home Office has started an urgent review into the housing facilities of asylum seekers in the North East. But once again these are by no means the least nor the first horror stories of living conditions documented in the North, where G4S won the newly privatised asylum housing contract in 2012.
John Grayson has reported tirelessly on these stories which include finding cockroaches in a baby’s bottle, diahorrea and vomit on the floor, rat infested homes – all where children and babies have been.
Grayson rightly asserts that prior to the Times front page, these stories rarely ‘excite’ national media.
This is not surprising, but the participation of the national media narrative in removing, unpicking, blinding and dehumanising asylum seekers is demonstrable and effective enough to make the entrenchment of their abusive treatment easier.
Media outlets often inflate or speculate about numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. Newspaper and TV images play into the dominant stereotype of the young dangerous man breaking into Britain and threatening ‘our’ communities. 31 percent of headlines and 53 percent of text about asylum across all newspapers has negative connotations. Language used to describe immigration is highly hostile across all newspaper types, with ‘illegal’ and ‘bogus’ the most commonly used terms to describe immigrants and asylum seekers.
In addition to mis-reporting, there is also ‘over-reporting’. In 2002, for example, 25 percent of Daily Mail and 24 percent of Daily Express articles were about asylum.
A 2003 study found words used in racist attacks and street harassment directed at immigrants mirrored themes current in newspapers.
While the vitriole directed, fostered, manufactured against asylum seekers in media and on the streets is vicious, G4S is ladened with protections. This partially stems from politicians who themselves want to save face, while the abuse of thousands more refugees and immigrants continues underfoot of slow and dispassionate bureaucracy and PR.
This month, the results of Stephen Shaw’s report into immigration detention centres was released. This was a report the Home Office were forced to pursue, after a number of stories surfaced of violent and sexual abuse on detainees by private security guards. Still the Home Office attempted to taper its scope as Politics.co.uk’s Ian Dunt reported:
‘….they tried to narrow its remit. It was limited to assessing detainees’ welfare and there was to be no discussion about the principle of detention itself.
As if that weren’t restrictive enough, officials also didn’t want Shaw addressing the issue of how long detainees are held. Under the current system, they never know how long they’ll be imprisoned. It could be hours or it could be years. That uncertainty can sometimes drive them mad. It is a uniquely bureaucratic form of mental torture.”
Thankfully, Shaw argued that this would severely prohibit his investigation, insisting that understanding how long detainees were held was vital to understanding the conditions of the centres, the detainee experiences and whether this was in line with the ethical code of the law. While the Home Office did not succeed here, this is an example of ways in which damning evidence can be bureaucratically hollowed out of investigations, and also demonstrates the commitment of the Home Office to protecting its ability to warehouse and detain bodies at will. Dunt said of the report;
“It vindicates almost every argument made by campaigners against immigration detention centres. Its findings suggest that the current detention system fails on moral, practical, and financial grounds.
“But Shaw is keen to spare Theresa May’s blushes, so he doesn’t make these findings explicit. They need some decoding.”
Shaw concludes, after some ‘decoding’, that Britain’s immigration detention centres are unethical. He determines that detention should only be used if steps are taken to mitigate the impact and the benefits of detention are demonstrated, highlighting that detention in and of itself undermines welfare and increases vulnerability. Shaw concludes;
“Immigration detention has increased, is increasing, and it ought to be reduced “If ministers and their officials decide to follow the direction pointed by my report, I trust they will do so boldly and without delay.”
The report signals a turn in the use of detention centres with the objective to clearly reduce the facilities and the numbers currently held. While enforcement and time scales still evade concrete targets, this does signify that the current conditions cannot be defended as ethical nor beneficial for all those involved.
Still, G4S continues to claw deeper into our infrastructure. Their presence at job centres is increasingly felt. With sanctions skyrocketing under Tory leadership since 2010, along with stringent and problematic testing and bureaucracy, the unemployed are forcibly pushed into economic hardship, and unpicked from their ability to function, or indeed eat. Stories of desperate benefit claimants making threats at job centres or causing scenes following changes or cuts to their welfare continue to pepper news feeds. And where these new entrants to economic and societal alienation are made, G4S is guarding them. They come under similar conditions of media vitriole where suspicion and representation is guided through nightly poverty porn and slurs; scroungers, skivers, benefit cheats.
G4S itself uses zero hour contracts, a move which contributed to their inability to meet the staff targets at the 2012 Olympics. The company still uses them. Some of these employees are hours from the underemployment that puts them under the guard of the security company they work for. These contracts are even used within their contracted police work, where staff will be required to use force on others.
G4S’ staffing and recruitment processes are troubling. The many examples of racist employees raises huge questions over the hiring process of a multinational who’s remit is so often to handle those from BME or immigrant backgrounds, or those in vulnerable positions. Training is often remarked upon as inefficient or inadequate.
In 2009, G4S hired Danny Fitzsimmons, an ex-soldier who was suffering with severe PTSD and had a history of racism and a criminal record. He was on bail and ordered not to leave the UK. Still, he was sent to Iraq to work for a G4S subsidiary, and within 36 hours he had shot dead two of his colleagues.
In 2011, Fitzsimmons was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the deaths. His family blamed G4S, insisting that he should not have been hired given the severity of his condition and track record.
Despite several instances of G4S incompetancy, abuse and scandal entering national news, these are portrayed as isolated cases while investigations and perspectives that would reveal the brutal nature of this security behemoth in our public services is kept well at bay.
They are not alone. ATOS, Serco (the private company in charge of Yarl’s Wood detention centre, where complaints of sexual abuse and suicide attempts by inmates forced the Stephen Shaw report), Maximus and Mitie, who now control huge swathes of our public service infrastructure, have a history of fraud or violence or incompetancy or all three. Attempts to replace or pursue changeover in contractors has previously been done to simply exchange the names of beleagured and shamed companies – as happened when Maximus replaced ATOS – while the same toils and abuses continue. Swapping millions of pounds worth of public sector contracts to another company, can be to simply maintain the veneer of action when forced to by public opinion.
We have a government committed to maintaining and extending economic and social inequality, demonstrated by overseeing the drive for 1 million people in the UK to food banks, while quantitive easing sees banks print money that largely went to the 1%. While Osborne and Cameron travelled to the EU to defend bankers’ bonuses, the same government has attempted to scrap targets to deal with child poverty and even alter the definition. These are but 2 markers of thousands that can be demonstrated.
With this commitment to inequality in mind, along with the vilification of the already marginalised, and the defence and growing use of unaccountable private companies doling out brutality on these groups, it is hard to conclude that this treatment is not the desired result. In Danny Dorling’s book on housing, ‘All That Is Solid’ the professor highlights the use of third party companies to move on homeless people from affluent areas, and that this is done for the reason of unaccountability and because the government cannot itself be seen to be doing this dirty work.
And the rewards roll in for companies like G4S, who like the other corporations and millionaires held in similar esteem such as the Richard Bransons interested in NHS children service contracts, and the PFI loan companies, G4S avoids tax. In 2013, after £2bn of taxpayer funded contracts were handed to them by government, the company paid nothing in corporation tax.