G4S: prisons, housing, employment

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From its discreet, tightly guarded HQ on the fifth floor of a building in Victoria Street central London, and its Security Services offices in Crawley (near Gatwick), G4S direct its global operations. Operations involve protecting the wealth of corporations, powerful individuals, and governments. It protects government institutions and facilities, and provides back-office police support, fast-response squads, alarm systems and surveillance, security software integration, airport security screening, immigration services, and transportation and imprisonment of detainees. Profits derive from taking custody of the most marginalised, most vulnerable, and the most alienated globally, and from maximising the exploitation of staff: that means skimping on training, paying the bare minimum wages, zero hours contracts, clamping down on unions, recruiting on the cheap, and constantly stretching employees to their limits in high-pressure workplaces. The result is a reliance on brutality in an atmosphere of casual racism.

In 2011, the government were embarrassed enough to promise to end detention of asylum seekers’ children. At the time of writing, children continue to be detained at Cedars immigration detention centre in Crawley under the control of G4S, or ‘pre-departure accommodation centre’, as they would have us call it, but they are due to move detainees to another facility. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, stated ‘there is no hiding the fact that this is still a family detention unit’. Heaven Crawley, professor of international migration, wrote ‘it is important to call a spade a spade. To repackage detention as “pre-departure accommodation” is disingenuous. Families with children will be taken to the facility against their will’.

Another of G4S’s detention centres, Medway, was the subject of a BBC Panorama programme on 11 January 2016 which revealed the continued unnecessary and overt use of force on children, including pressure on the neck, inhibiting breathing. The investigation also showed how guards treated the children in a belittling and humiliating way, and generally tried to bully and frighten their wards. Allegations against guards include ‘squeezing a teenager’s windpipe so it caused problems in breathing’, ‘boasting of mistreating young people including using a fork to stab one in the leg’, ‘slapping a teenager several times in the head’, and that this was the tip of the iceberg as staff were ‘concealing their behaviour deliberately by doing it out of the sight of CCTV’.

After the Panorama investigation was broadcast, G4S claimed it was treating the allegations with ‘utmost gravity’, despite trying to prevent the BBC from airing the footage in the first place. Since the broadcast, twelve people have been arrested. Former Justice Minister Gove was quick to defend G4S, saying ‘it would be quite wrong to make a blanket allegation’ and that he wouldn’t ‘rush to judgement’. (This has to be understatement of the century). G4S’s record of brutality towards youths in their care has a history lasting over a decade in Britain alone. British governments are by no means ‘rushing’ to any kind of judgement.

In 2004 at Rainsbrook Centre, near Rugby, a 15-year-old, three days into his custody for his first offence, refused to clean a toaster used by other youngsters. He ended up dead. First he was sent to his room where G4S guards began confiscating his things, including a note with his mother’s new phone number on. When he reacted, three guards, one of whom was over six foot tall and weighed 16 stone, forced the four foot ten inch, six stone boy into a position with his head pushed down between his knees. He cried out that he couldn’t breathe and was going to shit himself, which he did, before being sick as well. One of the guards responded ‘well, if you are shouting, you can breathe’. He died minutes later. The guards were absolved by the Coroner, and one was even promoted to become Health and Safety Manager.

It was revealed at the inquest that there was a macho culture in G4S training. This involved giving nicknames to guards such as Clubber, Crusher, Mauler, and Breaker. In the year leading up to this death, children had been restrained in exactly the same way 369 times, with ‘life-threatening harm’ occurring 10% of the time. Although G4S lost the contract to run Rainsbrook, they then won the contract for Medway. There had been further warnings from the Home Office in 2006 about the dangers of positional asphyxia.

In 2012 G4S was given control of Oakwood Prison in the Midlands with facilities for 1,600 inmates. The then Minister for Justice Chris Grayling said ‘to my mind, it is an excellent model for the future of the Prison Service’. By July 2013 it was one of two private prisons to receive the Ministry of Justice’s lowest rating. Prisoners claimed drugs were easier to obtain than soap. Problems of bullying and use of force by staff was double that of comparable prisons, and continued.

One instance of such bullying occurred in 2012 when a disabled ex-serviceman was subject to ‘degrading and inhumane treatment’ by G4S according to a judge, including being chained to a guard even when using the toilet and shower. He was waiting for sentencing for not following health and safety regulations in his bouncy castle business. The 77-year-old walks with the aid of a stick, having been shot through the knee on behalf of the British Empire in Suez, in 1956.

The government’s seemingly endless patience with G4S’s errant behaviour appeared to finally flag when G4S was found to have defrauded hundreds of millions from the tagging contract it was awarded. G4S was abusing the contract, sending tagging orders for every offence, even if the person was already tagged, and continuing to visit homes of offenders it already knew had been released from tagging orders or were in prison or abroad, even a few who had died, (so they were able to charge taxpayers until G4S received official confirmation of death from the courts).

To add insult to injury G4S had the nerve to decline a ‘forensic audit’ which even its rival Serco had submitted to. Evidence then emerged that state officials knew about the fraud as far back as 2008. G4S was barred from bidding for these contracts for a mere six months; a token punishment. It was soon given the tagging contracts back its suspension expired, despite an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

Not only that, all contracts with G4S had come under review by the government. And yet, the contracts, and public monies, continued to roll in. G4S, absurdly, got new contracts to provide medical examinations and counselling for victims of rape and sexual assault. It got contracts to provide services to about 200 hospitals and healthcare centres, such as cleaning, catering, portering and patient transportation. G4S charge exorbitant amounts for these services at hospitals facing closure; not a coincidence. As the NHS is steadily cut to ribbons, fewer staff and resources mean longer queues and shorter tempers: G4S guards are brought in to securitise basic health care.

G4S had no experience of housing management, but plenty of experience of dishing out racist abuse. Who would have thought it would be given a chunk of the £620m asylum housing contracts in June 2012? Jomast was sub-contracted by G4S to provide housing for asylum seekers in the North East of England. Early in 2016 it emerged Jomast had marked the accommodation in Middlesbrough with red doors, tipping off racists where asylum-seekers live. Shockingly, but predictably, dog excrement was smeared, eggs and stones were thrown at windows, a National Front logo was carved, and they suffered verbal abuse such as ‘fuck you dirty women, get out of our country’. Email evidence showed G4S was well aware this was going on for four years. When one resident painted the door white, Jomast sent someone round to paint it red again - exposing its justification was that doors were painted the same colour to ‘cut costs’.

G4S also had zero experience of delivering employment, but had supplied benefit fraud officers to snoop on claimants. Perhaps for this reason it was given contracts for the government’s new workfare scheme involving mandatory unpaid full-time work. The scheme was a continuation of Labour’s ‘Flexible New Deal’ designed to cut welfare spending either by forcing people who have been unemployed for a year into poorly paid or unpaid work, or face destitution and homelessness. Surely enough, G4S has been accused of arbitrary and cruel treatment of benefits claimants through its ruthless sanctions regime: it referred nearly 8,000 claimants for sanctions, of these only 40% were imposed.

G4S is not universally popular in Westminster. There are some small whispers of criticism and crocodile tears, especially from the Labour Party (under whose governments they blossomed). In June 2012 60 MPs signed a motion to bar firms with dubious human rights records from government contracts - this would definitely apply to G4S. However, nothing came of it; in fact, all three main parties, Labour, Conservative, LibDem, employed G4S as security at their annual conferences in Autumn 2012. In 2015, the National Executive Committee of Labour voted to sever ties with G4S altogether. Hilik Bar, deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, sent a letter to Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol urging him to reverse the decision or ‘make it clear it was not taken because of G4S’ work in Israel’.

Bar got both his wishes: reference to Israel was deleted from the minutes of the debate to boycott G4S and the decision not to use G4S at the Labour conference was overturned. G4S subsequently declined the offer of the contract, having provided security at Labour Party conferences for 20 years.

Ashley Wilkinson

With acknowledgement to The Guardian and the BBC.


 

G4S: revolving doors

-       Key G4S personnel developed their careers in government service and were then rewarded for providing G4S with access to powerful contacts and lucrative contracts.

-       As Lenin wrote, ‘A monopoly once it is formed and controls thousands of millions, inevitably penetrates into every sphere of public life, regardless of government and all other “details”.’ VI Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

Lord John Reid Former Labour Home Secretary, made a life peer in 2010. Joined G4S as Group Consultant in 2009 while still an MP; he was judged free to lobby ministers on G4S’s behalf.
Lord Condon Former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (1993-2000), made a life peer in 2001. Senior Independent Director until 2012 & Non-Executive Director.
Richard Northern Former British Ambassador to Libya (during the 2011 NATO bombing & ouster of Gaddafi). Adviser on Risk Management.
Martin Ewence Former Commander in the Royal Navy & Chief-of-Staff to the NATO Counter-Piracy Squadron. Member of a group regulating & accrediting private security providers for the government. Head of Maritime Security.
David Griffiths Former Deputy Director at the Ministry of Justice. Director of Probation and Community Services.
Tom Wheatley Former Governor of Nottingham & Moorland Prisons. Delivery Director for the Lincolnshire Police business transformation contract, which, unsurprisingly, they won.
Mark Seligman Has had senior roles advising the government on decisions that G4S takes an interest in: Chair of the Industrial Development Advisory Board, member of Regional Growth Advisory Fund (considers bids for £1.4bn funding ‘to boost private sector growth in areas currently over-dependent on the public sector’). Former Deputy Chair & Non-Executive Director.
Clare Spottiswoode Previously with the UK Treasury Department & former Director General of UK gas regulator Ofgas, overseeing the privatisation of British gas in the 1990s. Non-Executive Director.
Malcolm Stevens Former Senior Civil Servant who oversaw the creation of Secure Training Centres. Operations Director who joined G4S a year before Medway opened under G4S control.
David Banks Left G4S to oversee the youth justice system. Former G4S Head of Care and Justice.
Martin Narey Former Director General of the Prison Service of England and Wales. Later (August 2015) appointed Non-Executive board member at the Ministry of Justice. Joined G4S as an adviser producing an ‘independent’ report on G4S, predictably favourable to them.
Adam Mynott Former BBC correspondent. Joined G4S as Head of Media Relations, then left to join Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei, in September 2014.