Shropshire Star

Cleverly promises investigation after asylum seeker dies on Bibby Stockholm

Police were called to the barge in Portland, Dorset, early on Tuesday morning.

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Bibby Stockholm migrant accommodation death

The death of an asylum seeker on board the Bibby Stockholm barge will be investigated “fully”, Home Secretary James Cleverly has said.

Police were called to reports of the “sudden death” of a man living on the giant vessel, which houses migrants in Portland, Dorset, early on Tuesday morning.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax described the news as a “tragedy born of an impossible situation” and said he had been told by the Home Office the man is thought to have taken his own life.

Several other sources told the PA news agency the death is believed to be a suicide.

The mayor of Portland Carralyn Parkes told PA she met with residents on Bibby Stockholm who said a young man killed himself, and “they are shocked, saddened but not surprised”.

It comes as Rishi Sunak prepares to face a crunch Commons vote on plans to change the law so the UK can send migrants to Rwanda.

Mr Cleverly told MPs of the death, adding: “The House will understand that at this stage I am uncomfortable getting into any more details. But we will of course investigate fully.”

Dorset Police said the force received “a report of a sudden death of a resident on the Bibby Stockholm” shortly after 6.20am.

Officers are carrying out inquiries into the circumstances of the incident and the coroner has been notified of the death, a force spokesman said.

Video footage appeared to show a body being removed from the barge on Tuesday afternoon.

The age and nationality of the man and further details of the incident are yet to be confirmed.

Mr Drax said: “This is a tragedy born of an impossible situation. I was informed of the death by the Home Office this morning and await more information.

“While I never agreed to, nor accepted the imposition of the barge in South Dorset, I believe it was at least a decent, safe haven for some of those cruelly trafficked across the Channel.

“One can only imagine the desperate circumstances which led to this sad outcome. We must do all that we can to end this evil trade in human misery.”

The barge – the first to be used as part of government efforts to cut the cost of asylum accommodation – has capacity to house up to 500 single men in around 200 bedrooms.

Asylum seekers were first moved on board in August but evacuated days later after the discovery of Legionella – the bacteria which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease – in the water supply.

Migrants were taken back to the barge some two months later and Home Office interim second permanent secretary Simon Ridley told MPs in November that there were around 200 people on board.

The plan has attracted considerable opposition, prompting legal challenges and protests, with campaigners branding it cruel and inhumane.

News of the death drew criticism from charities who called for an independent review, an end to the use of such facilities for asylum accommodation and criticised the conditions on board.

Migrants are not detained and held on board so there is no automatic independent probe into the incident by watchdogs who investigate deaths in custody.

Earlier this year the Home Office denied the barge was a “floating prison” and said the people on board would be “free to come and go as they want”.

Ms Parkes however said asylum seekers described the conditions on Bibby Stockholm as “appalling” with airport-style security, tight space, bad food and fear of reprisals if they were to speak out.

She added: “Some people are more resilient than others, some people can cope with the conditions, and some people can’t.

“I think we should desist using things like the Bibby Stockholm as a place to accommodate human beings. It’s totally unsuitable, it’s not fit for purpose.”

The Refugee Council’s chief executive Enver Solomon said: “This is an appalling loss of life but tragically not surprising.

“We know from our work supporting men, women and children in the asylum system that many are deeply traumatised and feel isolated, unable to get the help they need. Some are so desperate they self-harm and feel suicidal.

“Nobody who comes to our country seeking asylum should be left without the support they need yet the system has more hostility than compassion built into it.

“It is imperative that an independent review is carried out into this death so that lessons are learned to avoid any further tragedies of this kind.”

Steve Smith, the chief executive of Care4Calais, called on the Government to “take responsibility for this human tragedy”, adding: “They have wilfully ignored the trauma they are inflicting on people who are sent to the Bibby Stockholm, and the hundreds being accommodated in former military barracks.”

Migrant accommodation
The use of the Bibby Stockholm barge has prompted protests (James Manning/PA)

Charity Freedom from Torture said the incident was “another reminder that the Government’s punitive anti-refugee policies are not only cruel but they cost lives”, adding: “It’s time this Government ends the use of barges and barracks as asylum accommodation once and for all.”

Amnesty International UK said it was “time for the UK to drastically change course on asylum” and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK) repeated calls for the barge to close.

Charity Safe Passage said the death “should be in all MPs minds” as they prepared to vote on the Rwanda Bill on Tuesday evening.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman previously insisted the Bibby barge was safe amid threats of legal action from firefighters about the suitability of the plan.

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The FBU warned this summer that detaining vulnerable human beings in prison-like conditions on a barge was a cruel and dangerous policy being pursued by the Home Office.

“While the circumstances surrounding the death are not yet known, there are still very real safety concerns about forcibly keeping people onboard a floating prison.

“Ministers must end this barbaric practice immediately.”

While Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch demanded a “full public inquiry” into the death and for details of the contract drawn up between Home Office ministers and Corporate Travel Management – which operates the barge – to be made public.

Having visited the barge recently, Mr Drax said he “couldn’t see any areas of concern”, adding that it was “very peaceful and well run”.

The chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal also visited the site in October and told MPs last month the conditions inside were “pretty good” and “better than many hotels”, but questioned whether some of the staff involved in the site were appropriately “skilled”.

He is due to carry out an inspection of the barge in January.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters migrants living on the barge have a “medical assessment, including for emotional trauma” and support is available.

For mental health support, call the Samaritans on 116 123, email them at or visit to find your nearest branch.

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