A WATCHDOG has blasted conditions at Britain’s largest immigration removal centre and the “unacceptable” length of time people are being held there.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons found one foreign national had been detained at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre (IRC) in west London for more than four and a half years.

It said in a report that physical conditions at the centre, which is near Heathrow Airport, had improved but bedbugs were “endemic” and there were infestations of mice in some places. HMIP said there was evidence of an increase in the availability of drugs, including the psychoactive substance known as Spice. Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke, who published the report, said vulnerable detainees were not being safeguarded adequately and that mental health needs were often not met.

IRCs are used to house foreign nationals, including overseas offenders and asylum seekers, while their cases are decided upon or before their removal from the UK. Instances where people have been held for months or years have led to calls for a time limit on detention.

Inspectors said planned removals failed to materialise due to late legal challenges or a lack of travel documents, while some detentions were prolonged by Home Office failings.

Harmondsworth is the largest centre of its kind in Europe, holding up to 676 male detainees. At the time of the inspection in October, it had a population of 552. HMIP’s report said: “Some detainees had been held for too long, 23 for more than a year at the start of the inspection. One had been held for more than four and half years.

“Removals failed for a variety of reasons. Some were prolonged by failings of the Home Office and its contractors – the Home Office took over a year to decide one asylum claim.”

Clarke said: “For the third consecutive inspection, we found considerable failings in the areas of safety and respect. Detainees, many identified as vulnerable, were not being adequately safeguarded. Some were held for unacceptably long periods.

“Mental health needs were often not met. Detainees were subject to some disproportionate security restrictions and living conditions were below decent standards.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Pople are detained for the minimum time possible and detention is reviewed on a regular basis. The detainee’s welfare remains of the utmost importance throughout.

“We are pleased that the inspector noted a number of positive areas of work. However, elements of this report make for difficult reading and we are committed to a programme of transformation.”