Business parks house a mismatch of organisations. At Twinwoods Business Park, near Milton East, Bedfordshire – a small village about 60 miles north of London – one can find, among other things, Bedford Pets Crematorium, an office of Bedford Borough Council and the headquarters of a company that offers indoor skydiving. One might assume the business park exists to group what is otherwise unrelated.

This collection of unremarkable buildings mirrors their function; a place for those activities that somebody needs to perform, somewhere, at a certain address, but not necessarily within our field of vision. But in the corner of the park is a stitch, one that marks the steady knitting together of private business and government institutions within the evolution of contemporary capitalism. Into the resulting mesh – the space that most people in the United Kingdom live and move freely within every day – a small pocket of space, which humans cannot leave, or lock eyes with the rest of us and explain who they are, has been sewn.

The business park’s varied tenants epitomise the adaptability of such buildings. Underdetermined by their physical structure they are easily appropriated and divulge just a few clues few clues as to the practices unfolding inside. It is within this context that the anomalous space can exist unchallenged. There are other stitches like this elsewhere across the country: on the fringes of rural lanes, within the perimeter of airports, along the exterior walls of former prisons. They can reveal structures that occupy an expected position, normal by design but alien in function, and therefore invisible, preventing passers-by from ever noticing how different the activity they conceal really is.

 

Dover Seaport
Short-Term Holding Facility (Port)

Port of Dover, Dover, Kent, England

Operator: Tascor

 
 
 

Tinsley House
Immigration Removal Centres

Perimeter Road South, Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, England

Operator: G4S
Capacity: 153

 
 

Brook House
Immigration Removal Centres

Perimeter Road South, Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, England

Operator: G4S
Capacity: 448

 

The route from Gatwick Airport to Tinsley House is characterised most sharply by one’s relationship with the Perimeter Road. Via fences, gates and barbed wire, one could be moved seamlessly from an airport exit to Tinsley House IRC. From here continue west along Perimeter Road South – no unauthorised vehicles or pedestrians allowed – to Brook House, an IRC adhering to Category B prison specifications, where up to 448 people are detained. In such a way, Perimeter Road links travelling with detention, without ever crossing the boundaries of the airport itself. 

To the southeast of the IRCs an odd rhythm of both self-containment and expansion animates the landscape. The uninterrupted path of travelling-detention separates the airport’s international runaways from the quasi-wasteland of the surrounding area, industrial and rural. Facilities look as if they could go on and on forever, without physical boundaries: flat parking lots, one-floor retail stores, local factory compounds and chain hotels for flight passengers stuck here overnight. Charlwood Road, parallel to Perimeter Road South, offers the only permissible point to view Brook House, through and above the hedgerow. 

When Tinsley House opened in 1993, it was the first purpose-built immigration detention centre in the United Kingdom and was initially run by the Wackenhut Corporation, now trading as The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO). Managers adopted a form of “dynamic security”1, an approach to prison management based on “individualism, relationship and activity”.2 The method is based on the delivery of programmes and services tailored to the needs of detainees in order to develop relationships between staff and prisoners. The use of dynamic security is regularly referenced in HMIP reports. 

Both Brook House and Tinsley House are now managed by security company G4S.3 The company’s involvement in the security industrial complex dates back to 1991 when the company won the first-ever private prison contract to manage Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Wolds. Today G4S is one of largest employers quoted on the London stock exchange, offering an abundance of services ranging from electronic tagging to mine clearance. G4S transports cash, provides accommodation for asylum seekers and offers Gurkha security services, managed by former British Army officers “for customers with higher risk security requirements”. 

Controversies involving G4S are as wide-ranging as the services it provides. The company first faced the wrath of the public following its inability to adequately staff the London 2012 Olympic games; G4S Public Services workers at Lincolnshire Police 999 call centre massaged performance figures; inmates in Birmingham Prison, managed by G4S, were locked in their cells for almost a day when the keys were lost; guards at Medway Secure Training Centre – a child jail – were videoed hitting, choking, and verbally abusing children in their care.4

Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan migrant died on 12 October 2010 after being restrained by the three G4S guards involved in deporting him from the UK. The jury at the inquest into his death were told that the guards heavily restrained him for more than half an hour, ignoring his cries of “I can’t breathe” whilst handcuffed in the seat of the aeroplane. They concluded that Mr Mubenga had been unlawfully killed.5 

The coroner criticised G4S, saying there is “pervasive” and “widespread” racism at the firm. Following Mubenga’s death, many clearly racist text messages were found on the mobile phones of two of the guards involved.Terrence Hughes had 76 racist texts on his phone that were abusive to black Africans, Asians and Muslims, and demonstrated a racist attitude towards immigration. A second defendant, Stuart Tribelnig, also had racist texts on his phone.6 

Following the inquest the three guards were charged with manslaughter. The judge at the Old Bailey, Justice Spencer, did not permit the coroner’s report – which included the text messages – and the verdict of the inquest be put into evidence in the trial.  All three men were found not guilty.7