Rabat – Amir Siman-Tov, a 41-year-old Jewish immigrant from Morocco died in 2016 by taking an overdose of painkillers while awaiting deportation just as he repeatedly threatened to do so. A recent inquest reveals that the staff of Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center contributed to his death by failing to properly communicate his symptoms.
A jury at West London Coroner’s Court has determined that “inadequate information sharing” led to missed opportunities which would have prevented him taking an overdose “despite Mr. Siman-Tov repeatedly stating his intention to do so.”
The Court heard how Siman-Tov, who lived with his family in North East London and had a history of mental health problems, was afraid of being in detention and terrified at the prospect of being deported to Morocco.
A statement from the staff said: “Although Siman-Tov spoke of his intention to self-harm and expressed suicidal ideation this is judged to be a cry for help rather than a desire to deliberately end his life.”
Human rights activist Mia Hasenson-Gross says this kind of neglect is normalized in centers which conduct indefinite detention for immigrants. As the information was released, Hasenson-Gross, who is also the executive director of Jewish human rights group René Cassin said, “This tragic incident once again highlights the lethal policy of indefinite detention. The evidence that detention is harmful is indisputable.”
Hasenson-Gross added, “It robs people of their dignity, their spirit, and, in Amir’s case, their lives. Four years ago, a cross-party group of MPs condemned it as ‘expensive, ineffective, and unjust’. Four years later, it is still happening.”
Siman-Tov was being held at the detention center when he died on the morning of February 17, 2016, surrounded by professionals who could have prevented his death. On the morning before his passing, a detention officer witnessed Mr. Siman-Tov take a handful of his prescribed painkillers, the court heard.
A doctor from Hillingdon Hospital, where Mr. Siman-Tov was taken, told the inquest a psychiatrist at Colnbrook called him, doubting that Mr. Siman-Tov had taken an overdose. The psychiatrist suggested he may have only taken “tic tacs.” Mr. Siman-Tov was dismissed after a doctor and consultant decided that he was not showing signs of opiate toxicity.
The nurse finished his shift at around 7 pm and gave a verbal handover to only one of the two night nurses. He said that he expected the night nurses to carry out medical observations every one to two hours. The court heard that the night nurses carried out no observations.
One of the nurses attended to Siman-Tov at approximately 9.10 pm to give him medication, which included the painkillers had already overdosed on, but when he found Siman-Tov “asleep” he did not disturb him.
It was not until 3.15 am that Siman-Tov was found to be unresponsive by custody officers who were supervising him. Paramedics rushed to the scene and pronounced him dead at 4.10 am.
The inquest jury concluded that the “failure to provide a discharge summary, inadequate communication at handover and failure to establish an adequate care plan on return” contributed to his death.
In a statement, Siman-Tov’s family said: “Amir was loved by his family and his death has been devastating for us. The jury’s conclusions show that he did not wish to die and that if those with responsibility for his care had not failed him, he would be alive today.”
The statement also said, “We were shocked to learn that more than three years on, lessons said to have been learned have still not been implemented, and we now call on those involved – the NHS trusts and Mitie – to do so without further delay.
The family added, “We also call on the Home Office to end its inhumane policy of indefinite immigration detention which, as Amir’s case shows, ruins lives and has no place in a civilized society.”