Suicide verdict on Ramazan Kumluca, aged 18

THE INQUEST INTO THE DEATH at Campsfield of Ramazan Kumluca, in June last year, began at Oxford Coroner’s Court on the afternoon of Thursday 20th July 2006 and ended the following morning with a clear verdict of suicide, reached in a matter of minutes by the 7-person jury.

There were 22 in the court including the jury: he probably got more, and certainly better-quality, official attention during his inquest than during his entire life in the UK.

Ramazan was only 18. He was born on New Year’s Day 1987 in Pazarcik, Turkey, and died in Room 41 at Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), Oxfordshire, some time before 3:30 am on the 27th June 2005. He had hanged himself with a fabric belt from the door-closing mechanism of his room, evidently because he was in despair at his impending removal from the country. Fellow-detainees, who knew of his fears, had tried to wake him for prayers and found the door would not open.

Inquests are strictly to establish how the person died – not to fix blame. In this case, the coroner showed great attentiveness to some possible causes for the suicide (medical worries, bullying, a prank gone wrong) but very little to what emerged as being the cause itself: his immigration case, threat of deportation, and the fate that awaited him if deported. He was from Turkish Kurdistan (Pazarcik) but was referred to as Turkish during the inquest.

WHY NO TESTIMONY FROM THE HOME OFFICE?

Nobody from the Home Office, or its Immigration and Nationality Department (IND), was called to testify – although I noticed at least one IND employee in court on the first day, and it was IND decisions (to detain him in the first place, to hold him for more than 4 months, and then threaten to remove him from the country despite what now seem to have been all too well-founded fears) that created the distress that caused his suicide.

On the other hand, three GSL employees were called as witnesses, as well as a GP from the practice that covers Campsfield, the Home Office pathologist who carried out the post-mortem, and two of the police who attended the scene immediately after the death was reported. A lawyer for GSL was also present, who popped up from time to time to emphasise any passing item that presented his clients favourably.

No questions were asked about the frequency of suicide and self-harm attempts, or the prevalence of depression, at Campsfield, although it was noted repeatedly that this was the only death of this kind in the centre’s 13-year history.

Nor was any expert testimony sought on the massive, and currently rather salient, subject of mental health and detention.

And the court did not refer to the overarching cause: the Government’s stated policy of treating asylum seekers harshly, in order to deter others. This was the “elephant in the room”, alluded to very obliquely at times perhaps but never directly.

The verdict of suicide was a small, but unequivocal victory for decency and truth.

WHY WAS HE DETAINED, AND THEN HELD FOR SO LONG?

It was made clear that Ramazan’s detention in Campsfield (over 4 months – from 18th February 2005) was unusually long. Andy Clark, centre manager at the time, said that average stay in the centre was 14 days. (NOTE: average length of detention is much longer than this because detainees are so frequently moved between removal centres. At Campsfield there were 36 movements per day in 2005, many of which would have been between removal centres.)

Questioned over the reasons for detention, Clark said that Ramazan’s IS91 (the IND equivalent of an arrest-warrant) gave reasons that included (words to the effect of) “Insufficient close relatives in UK to make it likely he would stay in one place if not detained.” and “Insufficient evidence of nationality.”

Yet the Coroner’s police file contained a photocopy of his Turkish passport, and it seems he had a fair number of relatives in the UK – they had been visiting him regularly. So at least some of the grounds for detention appear to have been bogus. No comment was made on this. (NOTE: unlike an arrest-warrant, an IS91 can be completed by ANY immigration officer on behalf of the Minister of State, without further authorisation – a remarkable delegation of power. It contains a number of check-boxes, and it is widely reported that immigration officers seem to tick as many of them as they like, more or less on whim. This was clear evidence of the practice.)

GSL’S INCAPACITY TO COMPREHEND THE DEATH. ARE THEY COMPETENT TO MANAGE A SITUATION WITH HIGH, INHERENT SUICIDE-RISK?

Ever since the suicide, Campsfield’s management (and “Independent” Monitoring Board – IMB) seem to have been in denial. They seem to have tried to pretend that it was not suicide or that, if it was, it was occasioned by something entirely unrelated to his incarceration in Campsfield.

One sad little detail that they used, was the fact that Ramazan had an embarassing testicular problem, implying that this had flung him (a sensitive teenager) into the depression that had caused his death. But as the GP explained, this was a minor and common problem (hydrocele) which does not even necessarily need treatment. It had been examined and his anxieties had been allayed long before the suicide. On the other hand, he had seen the GP not long before his death, complaining of headaches, indigestion and insomnia, “presumably stress-related … very common in these institutions”.

Then, Campsfield’s management seemed also to want to believe that Ramazan was *not* depressed. From the day after his death until the end of the inquest itself, staff were making much of Ramazan’s sociablilty and apparent good humour, including on the evening before he died – as if this somehow placed his death beyond human explanatory power: a capricious act of fate perhaps, or the result of some unimaginable prank gone horribly wrong. The GSL testimony returned again and again to how surprised and distressed they were that such a nice, helpful, and even “bubbly” character should kill himself.

Official reports (and the Coroner himself apparently) seem to interpret this as evidence of the admirably concerned and kindly regime at Campsfield. Reports by the IMB and by the Prison Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw (November 2005), almost bend over backwards to exculpate the staff and applaud the way they “coped”.

No doubt they were genuinely upset and concerned (especially the DCOs who discovered the body). But their amazement reveals a shocking and utterly inappropriate ignorance of suicide. One of its most common and terrible features is this very lack of warning – the valiant maintenance of a brave face to the very last. And it is not as if a place like Campsfield can afford to be ignorant about suicide. Suicide is part of the culture in places like these, and for clear reasons. Campsfield and its fellow-institutions are the teeth of a policy whose stated aim is to make examples of those, like Ramazan Kumluca, who come to Britain seeking asylum, and discourage others from doing the same by demonstrating the sheer hopelessness of the enterprise.

Despair is the aim; psychiatric damage, self-injury and suicide its inseparable consequences. The process has been documented in detail, explained at length and denounced repeatedly by mental health professionals the world over in a series of readily-available reports.

Campsfield seems to exist in a well-maintained cocoon of ignorance, or deep denial, about the reality of which it forms the “business end”.

HIS ASYLUM CLAIM FINALLY GAINS CREDENCE – POSTHUMOUSLY.

The police evidence (given by a young woman PC and a detective sergeant) blew all illusions away pretty quickly. The young man died at his own hands; nobody else was or could have been present; he had hanged himself from the door-closing mechanism with a fabric belt; he had probably prepared for the act some time in advance because he had collected a choice of 2 belts with which to do it; what is more, he had explained his intentions and reasons to fellow-detainees on several occasions.

Police read out two statements taken from “very, very distressed” fellow-detainees, stating and restating that Ramazan had received removal directions, to Italy initially (presumably under the Dublin Convention) where he feared he would be used in making sex videos – we did not learn on what basis. He dreaded his ultimate return to Turkey: not only was his life in danger there; his father had borrowed £20,000 to get him out of the country to safety and that would still have to be repaid.

Where are those fellow-detainees now? Deported? One was called Abdul Basi or Vaysi (I could not hear exactly and the PC refused to talk afterwards); the other was an Afghani named Abdulwase Kamali.

The GSL solicitor rose to make the point that Ramazan’s friends had not mentioned their concerns to the centre staff. It is worth considering why they did not report their concerns.

The centre manager at the time, Andy Clark (now manager at Yarl’s Wood) said in his testimony, somewhat misleadingly, that there was “no disciplinary procedure as such within the centre”. That may be the case in a formal sense, but detainees and their visitors know that there most certainly are disciplinary procedures – centring around “suicide prevention”. Suicide watch in detention centres is a disciplinary procedure in all but name. The detainee is placed in isolation and continually “looked in on” by guards every few minutes. The ultimate sanction is deportation to another, worse, detention centre, such as Colnbrook.

The last thing Ramazan’s friends would have wanted for him, was to compound his suffering with an ordeal like that.

Bob Hughes,
Campaign to Close Campsfield,
Saturday, July 22, 2006

===============================

Links:

“Waiting detainee killed himself”, BBC News Friday 21st July 2006

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/5202134.stm

BMJ EDITORIAL (4 February 2006) “Detention of refugees: Australia has given up mandatory detention because it damages detainees’ mental health” by Mina Fazel and Derrick Silove:

http://press.psprings.co.uk/bmj/february/edit251.pdf

Report by Claudia Hammond for BBC Radio 4’s mental-health programme “All in the Mind”, April 11th 2006, featuring interview with Australian psychiatrist, Zachary Smith. You can hear it at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/allinthemind_20060411.shtml

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