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Officials were warned about man with Alzheimer’s who died in U.K. custody

Alois Dvorzac, who had Alzheimer’s disease and was deemed medically unfit for detention, died while in handcuffs on Feb. 10, 2013

Channel 4 News

Several days before a frail, confused elderly Canadian died in immigration custody in Britain, a worried doctor had alerted Canadian diplomats in London about the man's plight, according to a new report.

The report says the doctor tried in vain to get various officials to intervene on behalf of 84-year-old Alois Dvorzac, who had Alzheimer's disease and was deemed medically unfit for detention. He died while in handcuffs after he was admitted to a hospital on Feb. 10, 2013.

A Canadian official had previously told The Globe and Mail that the Canadian High Commission in London was not informed about Mr. Dvorzac's fate until after he had died.

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However, in a report aired Tuesday night, the British broadcaster Channel 4 News interviewed the doctor who examined Mr. Dvorzac when he first arrived at the controversial Harmondsworth detention centre.

The doctor, who did not want her name to be broadcast, said she contacted the Canadian mission at the end of January.

She appears to be the same physician who was mentioned in a report released three months ago by a British government agency, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons. That report gave the first details of what happened to Mr. Dvorzac after he was refused entry to Britain on Jan. 23, 2013. He flew from Canada to Europe and was in transit at Gatwick Airport.

He was taken to Harmondsworth, a holding centre near Heathrow Airport that can hold about 660 men.

The report said a doctor examined Mr. Dvorzac and issued on Jan. 30 what is known as a Rule 35 report, signalling that further detention would affect his health.

The doctor told Channel 4 News that she alerted her manager in person.

"This person was extremely vulnerable, he was frail, he should not have been there in the first place, let alone to be detained for such a long while," the doctor said.

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The manager told her that the centre did not know why Mr. Dvorzac was held and that "U.K. Border Agency [UKBA] are not giving us this information because it's none of our business."

The doctor said she faxed a form to the UKBA and called in person.

"The doctor went further still. She rang the Canadian High Commission emergency number around the end of January. She explained to an official that she was really concerned about one of their citizens and gave them all the details," Channel 4 News reported on its website.

A Canadian official had previously told The Globe that the High Commission in London was not alerted because Mr. Dvorzac, a widower with no relatives in Canada, had listed on his passport the name of a former caregiver as his next of kin.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development did not immediately reply to a query from The Globe about its role.

The department told Channel 4 News that its diplomats in London "have maintained close contact with representatives of the Home Office to press on this tragic case and to receive developments."

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Citing a coming probe, the department said it could not comment further.

Mr. Dvorzac's case is now being investigated by the British Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. A coroner's public inquest is also expected.

"I definitely think that I tried to act ethically, I always do. I tried extra hard in this case to do the right thing by this patient and I feel as if nothing I said or did made any difference," the doctor told Channel 4 News.

The report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons portrays Harmondsworth as a grim, overcrowded facility where there is a "grossly excessive use" of restraints.

The report said the caseworker handling Mr. Dvorzac's file failed to respond to the doctor's Rule 35 report "and had had to be chased twice before he had replied on 5 February, acknowledging the man's vulnerability and lack of contacts in the U.K."

During a hospital visit on Feb. 10, he was kept in handcuffs for five hours and he died of heart failure. His handcuffs were removed only after his heart had stopped and CPR started, the report said.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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