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UPDATE: Young asylum seeker found dead at the Verne
A YOUNG asylum seeker has been found dead at the Verne on Portland.
The man has been named as Bruno Dos Santos, who was in his 20s and is reported to have a child in the UK.
He was discovered in his cell at around 7.30am on Wednesday at HMP The Verne.
It is understood Mr Dos Santos had been a long-time detainee as he was regarded as ‘stateless’ and could not be sent back to his country of origin.
A spokesman for the Prison Service said: “Bruno Dos Santos was found unresponsive by staff at HMP The Verne at approximately 7.30am on Wednesday June 4. As with all deaths in custody, the Independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will conduct an investigation.”
A spokesman for Dorset Police would only confirm the death was ‘sudden’, an ambulance attended and the individual died at the scene. They said the matter had been referred to the coroner.
In September 2013 the Government announced the Verne was to be converted into an immigration removal centre housing up to 580 detainees, with all ordinary prisoners being relocated. It would be the second largest immigration centre in the country.
But in March, with building work already underway and shortly before the first detainees were due to arrive, it backtracked and said it would remain a prison with the same officers in charge.
Prison Service bosses insist that it will still hold illegal immigrants and that the decision to revert to prison status was just a ‘temporary measure’.
But staff said at the time they were ‘very unhappy’ at the late-notice announcement.
The Ministry of Justice insisted there were ‘no current plans to review staff levels’.
Employees have said it is ‘just a matter of time’ before prisoners are re-allocated to Portland, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
Ali McGinley, director of the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees said she was saddened to hear of the death of Bruno Dos Santos and her thoughts were with his friends and family.
She went on to criticise the holding of asylum seekers in prisons, saying: “HMP The Verne operates under prison rules, which means detainees face even greater difficulties in maintaining contact with the outside world.
“Immigration detainees in prison don’t have access to the internet or mobile phones, for example, which makes contact with family and friends, support agencies, or accessing legal advice even more difficult.
“This compounds the isolation and distress felt by those detained without time limit and who want to know what is happening with their immigration cases.”
County and borough councillor Kate Wheller, also Mayor of Weymouth and Portland, said: “Clearly it’s very sad when anybody, particularly a young person, dies. It will be very helpful to find out the circumstances in which he died. If we were found to be lacking in any way then I hope that we would be taking steps to tackle it.”