THE company responsible for supporting asylum seekers in Scotland has been criticised after a human skull-shaped object was left in one of its vans.

Mears was awarded a £1 billion housing and support contract by the Home Office in 2019. Since then, serious questions have been asked about its performance.

Hundreds of people were moved from private flats into Glasgow hotels during the pandemic in what was described as a health protection measure. One of them, Syrian torture survivor Adnan Olbeh, was found dead in his room. Another, Badreddin Abadlla Adam from Sudan, was shot dead by police after attacking residents and staff with a knife at the Park Inn last July. Meanwhile, Ugandan mother Mercy Baguma was found dead in her housing association flat after it was decided to move her into the care of Mears. Her toddler son Adriel survived after hospital treatment.

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More than 200 people remain in hotels even now as a result of what Mears says is a lack of appropriate housing stock in the city. A temporary suspension of the dispersal of newly-arrived asylum seekers to Glasgow was negotiated by council bosses last year until the accommodation situation is resolved. Council leader Susan Aitken has now told the BBC that could last for years.

Mears carries out a range of services including house building, facilities management and maintenance, as well as being a Home Office contractor but it is the latter role that it is perhaps best known for in Glasgow, where a liveried van was spotted with an item resembling a human skull on its dashboard. The vehicle was parked up in the city’s Baillieston district, where it was seen by an asylum seeker with a history of trauma.

He sent these images to The National on the condition that we did not reveal his identity as he continues through the asylum process – something that can take many years.

The man was a hotel resident at the time of the Park Inn attack and knew Olbeh. He said the sighting gave him “haunting flashbacks” of those incidents and said of Mears: “What are they trying to tell us as people who are fleeing the danger of death? We are trying to forget past traumas.

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“How come a van in official use can display a skull? It is unbelievable. What is the place of this in asylum housing and welfare? To what kind of people’s hands were we entrusted?”

A Mears spokesperson said: “Mears have undertaken an urgent investigation this afternoon. This was a personal item left in a vehicle by a staff member, who has been advised that it is not appropriate. The item has been located and removed. Mears apologise for any upset the item has caused.”

The company says the vehicle is not used in connection with the provision of asylum accommodation and support.

On the company’s health and welfare performance its regional head of operations Steve Robbins told the BBC: “To be judged on anything over the last year, is did you keep people safe? And I can categorically say we did.”