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  Home | Friday 29th March 2002 | Issue 348
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YARL-BOO SUCKS! | Size Matters | SchNEWS in brief | Inside SchNEWS | Positive SchNEWS | Dying For A Drink | And Finally

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When I asked what the officers were doing with all this situation, they said there is no officers, cos they all run away. I just couldn’t believe it... I saw that all doors and the gates (we had them along the whole corridors) were locked. No officers, no police, no fire brigade or anybody else. Only scared people everywhere...The some male detainees (mostly black) were trying to get people outside the building. Cos if it hadn’t been for them we would all be burned in that fire.”
- From a woman detained at Yarls Wood during the fire.

It’s been over a month since the Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in Bedfordshire burned down, but the true story of what happened on that day is still no clearer. The government’s response -a promise to toughen up their policies with more detention centres, increased security, faster removal times for failed asylum seekers, and reduced access to the judicial system.

Yarl’s Wood only opened last November -built at an estimated cost of £100 million and run by Group 4 under licence from the Home Office. To make asylum seekers feel welcome they’ve installed security equivalent to a category B prison, surrounded by 16ft high fences topped by razor wire with moving cameras and microwave detection units to prevent escape. According to the government the centre is supposed to house ‘failed’ asylum seekers facing immediate deportation, yet their own statistics reveal that only 46 of the 385 detainees at Yarl’s Wood on the night of the fire were waiting to be deported.

Ever since the first people were locked up there has been constant protests about conditions. In January nearly all the detainees, went on hunger strike for 24 hours, while on the afternoon of 14th February, the day the fire started, trouble flared after a woman was handcuffed so she could be taken to hospital. At some point later a fire started. It’s not clear where, although many detainees believe it started in the reception area to which they have no access. Shocking stories from those who were inside on the day are only now emerging.

“The incident started when detainees saw a woman aged about 55 being restrained and they were concerned for her safety. Women were told to stay in their rooms by staff. Families were waiting in their rooms for Group 4 to tell them what to do. Three hours later, when they became aware of the fire, and the building started to fill with smoke and heat, they were still inside waiting.

Exits and doors were locked. There was no evacuation by Group 4. Detainees got one another out of the burning building. Once outside, they saw others trapped in their rooms calling for help, unable to breathe. One man opened his door and found flames outside. Detainees shouted to Group 4 or the police asking them to help those who were trapped. With exits being closed, the only way out of the burning building would have been to try to smash their way through high security toughened windows which are designed to open only a few inches.

Some detainees tried to put the fire out themselves, but when they saw they couldn’t, they shouted to firemen to come in. Others said police or Group 4 tried to push them back in to the building, or blocked their exit when they tried to get out.

Detainees, including a 2 month old baby, were kept outside most of the night in freezing weather. Bedfordshire County Council had transport, social facilities including a school available to provide respite care but they were not used. People were herded around the site by police/Group 4, who shouted at them and tried to make them gather near to the burning building on tennis courts. When people protested, they pushed them on to the unused part of the building.”

Deportation Department

Whilst Group 4 were busy locking the detainees inside it appears that fire fighters were being locked out from the burning building. Had they got they could well have prevented much of the estimated £38 million of damage. Home Secretary David Blunkett was quick to blame the fire and the lack of access for the fire fighters, on the detainees, complaining “Having removed asylum seekers from prison, we now find that our reward is the burning down of a substantial part of the facility, this is deplorable”.

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) however are refusing to tow the official line and have attacked the Home Office and Group 4 for refusing to install a sprinkler system. Andy Gilchrist from the FBU said “It is clear that [they] have put their private profit before the lives of asylum seekers thereby treating them as second class citizens. Group 4 flatly refused to put a sprinkler system into these premises to cut their costs.” Fire fighters who were at Yarl’s Wood have also contradicted claims that it was asylum seeker who stopped them getting in to put out the fire. A spokesman said “None of the fire fighters has a bad word to say against the asylum seekers, we are only demoralised because we were prevented from doing our job.” In the light of what they saw at Yarl’s Wood, the FBU are now calling for the immediate release of all asylum seekers from detention centres until they can be made safe.

Group 4 is the largest security firm in the world, and are also involved in Campsfield detention centre. In 1997 after mass protests at Campsfield, 10 detainees were charged with rioting, but the subsequent trial collapsed after it became evident that the Group 4 security guards were lying and had themselves caused criminal damage. No action was ever brought against the company.

For those who were locked up in Yarl’s Wood on that night of the fire 70 have now been transferred to prisons, some of them are in solitary confinement, although none of them have been charged with any offence. 19 are still missing, the official line is that they’ve escaped, although it can’t be ruled out that they may have died in the blaze, a detailed forensic investigation of the site only began late February and is expected to take 2 months. In what is looking like a massive cover up, access by friends and relatives to many of those that knew what went on during that day has been denied, and key witnesses to events have been deported. Shakir Hussain a solicitor representing some of the asylum seekers, has already had one client removed without any warning “It seems to me that any potential witnesses were put in segregation and shipped out as soon as possible.”. There is real fear among campaigners that these moves could stop investigators getting to the truth.

* Stop the lies. Demonstrate at Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre this Saturday 12 noon till Saturday. For directions tel: 07786517379

* Open Borders The Case Against Immigration Controls by Teresa Hayter (Pluto Press)



“We are creators of new technologies… driven - this time by great financial rewards and global competition - despite the clear dangers, hardly evaluating what it may be like to try to live in a world that is the realistic outcome of what we are creating and imagining.” - Bill Joy, chief scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

It’s being called the next industrial revolution – and with one research institute announcing that hundreds of three-legged robots the size of a thumb, complete with onboard computers, powerful microscopes, and biosensors will be ready to manufacture nano-scale materials by the middle of this year, it’s a science coming our way soon.

Welcome to nanotechnology. Once the stuff of science fiction, nanotechnology now seems the scientists’ equivalent of porn.

But what is a nano? A nanometre is a billionth of a metre. If you put fifty million nanos side by side they’d be the width of a human hair. Where biotechnology manipulates genes to alter their natural molecular composition, nanotechnology aims to build pretty much anything atom by atom or alter existing structures.

Not surprisingly, the bio-tech and pharmaceutical corporations, not to mention NASA and the trigger-happy US military, are busily developing and funding nanotechnologies. (The U.S. Defense Department announced it would be spending $180 million on it this year alone.)

The scope and impact of nanotech was brought home last month by researchers in Spain working with Kraft Foods. They are developing nano-capsules containing the colour, fragrance, and taste of tens of thousands of different drinks. The consumer would buy a generic liquid containing multiple-choice capsules (ranging from fruit juices to colas to wines and spirits). By exposing these capsules to different ultrasound or radio frequencies, the desired concoction would be released. Households would likely need nothing more sophisticated than a microwave-type device.

This technology is delivering a series of almost magical inventions that are the most phenomenally lucrative ever seen. Mihail Roco, the National Science Foundation’s senior advisor for nanotechnology warns that, “a nano elite could command unlimited wealth and power” while Paul Thompson, a professor of ethics at Purdue University says “There are some disturbing similarities between biotechnology and nanotechnology. This is a technology that, once it’s out there, can’t be called back.” As Pat Mooney of ETC group in Canada points out “Nanotechnology must become a serious issue for the Rio+10 summit If governments don’t address it there, we could find ourselves dealing with social and environmental issues that will make biotech look insignificant.”

Maybe that’s why one of the most influential figures in computing Bill Joy wrote in Wired magazine that self-replicating nanobots are more dangerous than nuclear weapons and urged scientists to abandon nanotech for the good of mankind.

  • To keep up to date with these issues check out the excellent
  • The Institute of Nanotechnology will be holding a two day conference bigging up their new microscopic mates at the Dynamic Earth Centre in Edinburgh 24-25 April.
  • GM test sites for the coming year have recently been announced check ‘em out at

SchNEWS in brief

  • There’s a benefit night for Indymedia UK next Friday (5th) at the Medusa, Barrington Rd., Brixton with 2 rooms – of drum and bass and house, VJ’S and a chill out space. Tax is £5/3, 10pm – 6am.
  • The Simon Jones Memorial Campaign are asking groups and individuals to organise events for a national day of action against temp agencies that put people before profit on 24th April. To get involved call 01273 685913 or email
  • The Mayday Festival of Alternatives meeting has been moved to Thursday 4th April at the Union Tavern. Camberwell New Rd and Vassal Rd, Camberwell SE5.
  • Corporatewatch have opened a new website in India to expose the social and environmental impacts of corporate investment in the country
  • Schwoops - the website for the ‘Welcome to Manchester’ event in last weeks positive SchNEWS should have read
  • 200 protesters marched through Swansea at the weekend in a protest aimed at putting pressure on the Environment Agency to refuse a license for the Crymln Burrows incinerator
  • And on Monday 100 residents in Easton, Bristol brought commuter traffic to a standstill to demand action about ever-rising levels of street crime in their area.
  • POW (Protect Our Woodland) who are campaigning to save Titnore Woods near Worthing are meeting next Tuesday (2nd), Downsview Pub opposite West Worthing Station, 7:45pm
  • The Energy Minister in South Korea is studying how Thatcher dealt with the miners strike to try and end a five week long strike by power workers resisting privatisation (that’ll teach em’). Thousands of strikers are now facing dismissal for creating a nice climate of labour unrest just in time for the football World Cup.

Inside SchNEWS

Neil Bartlett has been sentenced to 4 years in prison for a series of bomb hoaxes against organisations involved in animal abuse. Write to him: Neil Bartlett FW7083, HMP Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1EA

Jonas Enander has just been given two years and 6 months for his part in the anti EU protests in Sweden last year. Letters to Jonas Enander, KVA, Aby-Funbo 755 97 Uppsala, Sweden. To contact the Gothernburg prisoner solidarity group e-mail:

Positive SchNEWS

While places like Brighton have to put up with bullshit from developers about sustainable hotels, sustainable supermarkets and hey while we’re at it, why not sustainable motorways, a Zero Energy Development is nearing completion in Beddington, Sutton near London. The mixed development of houses and offices will only use energy from renewable sources generated on site, is cutting water consumption by a third, reducing transport costs etc. It “aims to be a beacon, to show how we can meet the demand for housing without destroying the countryside. It shows that an eco-friendly lifestyle can be easy, affordable and attractive - something that people will want to do.”

* The occupation of the Harvest Forestry site in New England Road, Brighton continues with a host of events for the coming Easter weekend. Including a demo at London Road Sainsbury’s on Saturday at 2pm. Call the hotline on 01273 622727 to find out what’s happening.


Just in case you missed it the 22nd of March was World Water Day. It was celebrated in South Africa by remembering 260 people who have died in the recent Cholera epidemic. It started after the city council in Capetown started cutting off the water supply of people in townships who couldn’t afford to pay for the ‘service’. People who resisted were shot with live ammunition (see SchNEWS 326) Now the council have come up with the brilliant idea of auctioning off the houses of 400 families who can’t pay, leaving them homeless. Most of the community were dumped in the poor quality council homes in Mfuleni in 1974, after being forcibly removed from other parts of the Western Cape under the Group Areas Act of the Apartheid government. The council homes were later supposed to be transferred to the tenants. The community agreed in a mass meeting last week that they would fight the eviction and, as a last resort reclaim the land they lived on before 1974 rather than become homeless after this second eviction.

In Bolivia they celebrated World Water Day by acquitting the soldier that murdered 17 year old Victor Hugo Daza during the protests over the privatisation of the water system in Cochabamba two years ago (see SchNEWS286 and 339). Video footage from an independent Bolivian television network clearly showed Captain Robinson Iriarte de la Fuente, firing into a crowd of unarmed civilians, fatally wounding Victor in the head. This footage, seen by people in Bolivia and around the world, was apparently not considered as evidence at the trial. As a final insult, after the acquittal he was promoted to the rank of Major.

In Colombia, another person fighting privatisation has been murdered. On 20 March, a leader of the Union Sindical Obrera (Oil Workers’ Union), Rafael Jaimes Torra, was assassinated by paramilitaries. He is the eighty-fifth oil workers leader to be assassinated since 1988. To date no one has been prosecuted for any of these crimes. Rafael was involved in negotiations with the Colombian oil company Ecopetrol over their plans to privatise the industry. On Monday, two Ecopetrol workers, Jose Antonio Perez and Hernando Silva Cely, were abducted in Casanare and it’s very likely that they will be tortured and executed. The government is doing nothing to obtain their release or prevent their deaths. To make helpful suggestions write to Dr Victor G Ricardo, Embassy of Colombia, Flat 3a, 3 Hans Crescent, London SW1X OLN. Fax: 020 7581 1829. Email:

More info: Colombia Solidarity Campaign 07950 923448

...and finally...

Ever had the wool pulled over your eyes by some yarn? In that case this pearl will have you in stitches. “We call upon activists throughout the world to join together in a Global Knit-In to challenge the G8 and the global corporatism it stands for. Our primary day of action will be Wednesday, June 26th 2002. On that day, we ask you to organise a group of knitters to knit at one of the seats of corporate power in your communities. Transform those spaces through knitting. We will also be doing a mass knitting action at a location outside the G8 meeting. We’ll show the G8 what we want through our people- and community-driven production.” Time to get that new balaclava sorted then eh?! To get some anti-capitalist patterns e-mail: To find out more about the G8 protests in Alberta, Canada check out

SchNEWS warns all readers with a short detention span we’re just refugees from the asylum. Honest.

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