Diane Abbott asks for explanation over denied access to Yarl's Wood

Diane Abbott has written to the home secretary, Amber Rudd, to ask why she has been refused permission to visit the controversial Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre despite at least a dozen requests over more than a year.

The shadow home secretary said getting access to the centre in Bedfordshire, which has regularly seen concerns raised about inappropriate treatment of highly vulnerable detainees, was a necessary part of her job.

Yarl’s Wood, where foreign nationals are detained before being deported, faced criticism last month after the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said he had found increasing numbers of women held there despite evidence they were victims of torture, rape and trafficking.

Clarke said he was concerned to find that the Home Office had refused to accept that rape came within the legal definition of torture.

In July a Kenyan asylum seeker won a court victory, with the Home Office found to have acted unlawfully by locking her in a “punishment room” at Yarl’s Wood for an excessive time.

In her letter to Rudd, Abbott said she had made repeated requests from November 2016 to go to Yarl’s Wood and visit “some of the most vulnerable women in your care and control”.

The letter, which Labour has released publicly, states that while Yarl’s Wood permits social and legal visits for detainees, Abbott was “not seeking to visit a specific individual but rather to see for myself the general conditions in which people are detained and to listen to any of those wishing to share their experiences with me alongside those working in the institution”.

Abbott wrote: “You will appreciate that such visits are both my constitutional and ethical responsibility.”

Her letter ended: “The Christmas period can be a particularly difficult time for both incarcerated people and those working in places of detention, so I hope you will grant my request for a visit as a matter of urgency.”

The notoriety of Yarl’s Wood has seen up to 2,000 people protest outside it, while campaigners have repeatedly called for it to be closed.

In a separate statement, Abbott said: “It is of critical importance that we are able to scrutinise the conditions in which people are held, especially given the allegations of appalling treatment, abuse, and a lack of legal advice and medical support in this centre.

“It is completely unacceptable that I have been refused access to Yarl’s Wood for more than a year and it would be extraordinary for the home secretary to continue to ignore my reasonable request by fobbing me off with false assurances.”

The Home Office said: Independent scrutiny is a vital part of ensuring our immigration removal centres are safe, secure and humane. They are visited and inspected regularly by organisations including Independent Monitoring Boards, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons and the chief inspector of borders and immigration. Requests to visit the centres must be carefully considered and planned to preserve the privacy and dignity of the people detained there.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 22nd December 2017 06.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010