PRESS RELEASE: Home Office Admits Mobile Phone Outage Affected Hundreds In Immigration Detention, Including Those Facing Jamaica Removal Flight

Detention Action Press Release
Friday 7 February 2020
London – for immediate release


In response to a legal challenge issued by the human rights charity Detention Action over effective access to legal advice in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), the Home Office has today acknowledged that it has been aware of a mobile phone outage since 13 January 2020, affecting the Heathrow area where hundreds of people are held in detention, including those now facing imminent removal to Jamaica on 11 February.

Despite issuing a notice to those held in the Heathrow detention centres on January 13th informing them of the communications outage, the Home Office failed to take remedial action, and proceeded with removal charter flights on 29 January to Nigeria and Ghana and on 30th January to France, and scheduled a further charter flight to Jamaica for 11th February.

The Home Office was further forced to admit that, although it became aware of the communications outage on 13th January, it did not begin issuing working SIM cards to all those scheduled to be removed from the country until 5th February, missing the crucial window leading up to the removal flights during which access to legal advice is vital.

Mobile phones provided by the Home Office at the outset of detention are the principal means by which those held in IRCs are able to access legal assistance, contact their solicitors and families, and access support services.

Those facing imminent removal from the UK are entitled to notice periods ranging from three to five days during which is it is vital that they are able to access legal advice and assistance, for example to assess the merits of challenging an order for their removal to the country in which they claim to be at risk of persecution. Their right to effective access to legal advice and assistance is a fundamental constitutional right, guaranteed at common law.

Detention Action issued the legal challenge over the Home Office’s failure to provide effective access to legal advice to those held in the detention centres.

The legal challenge concerned weeks of disruption to Lycamobile signal in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs, the closest detention centres to Heathrow Airport that act as the staging post for many removals from the UK. Phone signal has been severely disrupted since early January 2020 due to a fault with an O2 mobile phone mast in the area.

Today’s admissions from the Home Office come amid deepening concerns regarding the February 11th removal charter flight to Jamaica, set to be only the second charter to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal broke in 2017.

Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said: “This is an important first concession from the Home Secretary about the scale of the communication problem at the Heathrow detention centres. But an eleventh hour issuing of SIM cards may not be sufficient for those seeking to challenge their removal on Tuesday’s flight. Not to mention the impact on those that have been removed while signal has been down. This is a partial victory for access to justice but there are many unanswered questions and our legal challenge will proceed.”


For media enquiries please contact Matthew Leidecker on 07950387130 or by email to

Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview.

Notes to editors:

1. Detention Action is a national charity established in 1993 that seeks to defend the rights and improve the welfare of people in immigration detention by combining support for individuals with campaigning for policy change. Detention Action works in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs near Heathrow Airport in London, Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire, and with people held under immigration powers in London prisons. We work with around 1000 individuals held in detention each year.
2. Detention Action is represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors, and Jessica Jones and Chris Buttler of Matrix Chambers.
3. The relevant Home Office policies are:
The Detention Services Operating Standards manual for IRCs stipulates as a standard, “to ensure that detainees are aware of their right to legal representation and have access to it.”
Detention Services Orders (DSOs)
– DSO 05/2018: Mobile phones, internet enabled devices, and cameras.
– DSO 06/2013: Reception, induction and discharge checklist and supplementary guidance.
– DSO 03/2014: Sets out the requirements for the Service of Removal Directions, including the necessary minimum notice periods (72 hours, of which 2 days including the last 24 hours must be working days, for normal enforcement cases; 5 working days for third-country cases; 5 working days for charter flights with special arrangements).
– DSO 05/2018: All detainees must be provided with  a mobile phone (unless they have a personal mobile phone with no camera or internet connectivity, in which case they must be allowed to keep their own basic phone).