Death of Chinese man at Dungavel could have been prevented had not been detainee

16 June 2023

A fatal accident inquiry has found that the death of Xi Biao Huang in 2017 at Dungavel Detention Centre ‘might realistically’ have been prevented if appropriate and adequate medical attention was given.

A Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry has determined that the death of a 54-year-old Chinese man at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre could have been avoided if the system of working had not been defective.  

A post-mortem found ‘significant’ heart disease, and suggested that Mr. Huang  had two heart attacks while in detention in the two weeks before his death. During that time, he was nor provided with a doctor, nor was he taken to hospital despite complaining of chest pains. Instead he was given indigestion medication.

The man, Mr Xi Biao Huang, from China, was detained by immigration officers in August 2017, first in an English immigration removal centre, before being transferred to Dungavel in Scotland. However, upon arrival, his details were incorrectly recorded, including his language, date of birth, and name. Despite his limited English, he tried to explain to staff that he was suffering from chest pain, which was noted as “gastric,” and he was repeatedly given indigestion medication without his vital signs being recorded.

The following day, Mr Huang was found dead in his room, having suffered from Ischaemic Heart Disease. The post-mortem revealed that he had a heart attack approximately two weeks before his death and another one a day or two before he died. Medical experts testified that if he had been taken to the hospital earlier, his chances of dying would have been significantly reduced.

The Sheriff's judgment, which was 147 pages long, was highly critical of the system in place for the use of interpreters, describing it as “vague, haphazard and ambiguous.” The Sheriff was also critical of detainees being allowed to act as interpreters without a reasoned decision. Additionally, the system for booking GP appointments was undocumented, and the standard of medical record-keeping did not comply with the Nursing and Midwifery Council's requirements.

The inquiry made 14 recommendations, including the use of professional interpreters in all medical assessments, full recording of all medical assessments with patients, clinical assessments taking place in consultation rooms, the implementation of automatic triggers for GP assessment following repeat prescriptions within a short period of time, and training for custody staff to ensure accurate details of languages spoken are obtained.

This is not the first time that systematic issues have been raised in the operation of immigration removal centres. Since 2000, 56 immigration detainees have died in detention, according to the charity Inquest. Inadequately trained staff, attempted suicides, and asylum seekers being forced to share cells with foreign criminals are among the issues raised in the BBC’s Panorama episode, which revealed a “culture of abuse” in many removal centres.

Positive Action in Housing raised questions about the circumstances of Mr. Huang's death in detention- the Home Office refused to give details. Robina Qureshi stated: ‘the fact that we know nothing more than that a Chinese man died is typical media crisis management on the part of the Home Office. We get to know very little about what goes on inside Dungavel or most detention prisons.’

Six years later, the results of a fatal accident inquiry have found that the death could have been prevented if appropriate and adequate medical attention was given to Mr. Huang.

Whilst a series of recommendations have been made, including better translation services and record-keeping, these are not enough.

Although the Fatal Accident Inquiry's purpose is not to establish civil or criminal liability, families of the deceased can bring actions for damages following any critical findings of negligence or fault by those involved. Therefore, it is likely that Mr Huang's family may seek damages.

Detention centres are sites of isolation, and as report after report is released detailing the violence and neglect people seeking safety suffer in detention, we must call for the end of detention across the UK. These tragedies are preventable and unnecessary. We continue to call for the Dungavel Immigration Centre to be shut down to stop further neglect and harm to people seeking safety.

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