'Robocop' prison squad called in as rioting flares at immigrant centre
By Jason Lewis and Barry Wigmore
Last updated at 11:26 PM on 14th June 2008
A special prison service riot unit known as the Tornado Team was sent into a controversial detention centre yesterday to quell a violent stand-off between staff and illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.
The 50 elite officers dressed in Robocop-style black boiler suits and helmets and carrying batons and shields marched into the Campsfield centre near Kidlington, Oxfordshire, after an initial disturbance when several fires were started.
Crews from 15 fire engines tackled the blazes which caused thick black smoke to billow from one of the detention buildings.
Confrontation: Tornado Team officers move into Campsfield detention centre to quell trouble yesterday after several fires were started
The Tornado Team was supported by about 50 police officers some, equipped with riot gear and dogs, entered the camp while others secured the perimeter as a police helicopter hovered overhead.
All the 200 inmates were herded into the camps exercise yard while fire crews took two hours to put out the blazes and make the area safe.
But the detainees, all men, then refused to return to their buildings creating another stand-off.
At one point the illegal immigrants could be heard violently hammering on the 25ft high steel fence that surrounds the yard.
A senior prison officer said outside: “No one in there is going anywhere.”
The Home Office said last night: “The UK Border Agency asked police for assistance and officers have secured the perimeter, which has not been breached. Specially trained prison officers known as a Tornado Team have been sent to the site in riot gear.”
Last August, 26 detainees escaped from Campsfield after a fire was started. But last night all the men were believed to have been accounted for.
Tornado Team members are picked from serving prison officers and undergo four months of specialist training.
Their boiler suits are fire-resistant, as are their padded gloves and steel-capped Army-style boots.
Extra protection comes from plastic protectors on their forearms and shins.
Every officer carries an American-style PR-24 sidearms baton. It can be used for defence, held along the forearm, or to attack by using a protruding metal attachment which can be spun round in confined spaces such as cells or corridors to keep assailants at bay.
As an additional precaution, squad members wear face protectors to stop flames spreading under their protective suit.
They use personal radios to contact their head at the scene, who is known as Silver Commander.
He in turn takes orders from a Gold Commander, in charge of the overall operation and based at the Prison Service headquarters in London.
Campsfield has been dogged with controversy since it was converted from a youth detention centre to handle illegal immigrants in 1993.
Last year alone, there were two other disturbances not including the breakout.
It is run by the UK subsidiary of American company the GEO Group, which signed a five-year contract in March, 2006.
The Home Office said all the detainees were being escorted back to their accommodation blocks by 7.30pm.
A spokesman added: “The situation has calmed down. There has been no resistance from the detainees to going back to their rooms. The operation is being wound down at the site.”
A GEO spokesman was unavailable for comment last night.