Fresh details revealed of growing tensions before deadly Manus riot
• Exclusive: power cuts and food delays partly blamed
• Presence of local guards was ‘an aggravation’
• PNG police dog squad entered compound twice
• G4S report excerpts add to picture of night Reza Barati died
A series of power cuts and a delay in serving meals contributed to immediate tensions in the Manus Island detention centre on the night that Reza Barati died, according to part of the official G4S incident log seen by Guardian Australia.
The extract adds to the forensic timeline constructed by Guardian Australia of the night of 17 February and also confirms as has previously been revealed that the PNG police dog squad was invited into the camp before the rioting occurred, aggravating the situation. It raises questions over whether a failure to deliver basic provisions inside the camp contributed to unrest in which dozens more people were injured, many seriously.
The report sheds more light on how tensions over the night ebbed and flowed – at one point, around 9pm, the situation had eased and the “situation was calm enough for a shift change in G4S personnel and discussion about standing down the mobile squad [the PNG police squad who had been placed on alert]”. But half an hour later “information was received that tension would escalate after evening meals”.
The report notes that a number of power cuts due to generator failure occurred throughout the night and “increased the tensions” inside Mike compound where the majority of the rioting took place and where Reza Barati died.
At around 6.30pm the perimeter lights in Mike compound failed. They were eventually restored but the report observes: “After light was restored to Mike at 1849 there was an increase in tension between Oscar and Foxtrot compounds, which were exacerbated by the Iranian nationals in the compounds threatening non-participants in any protest action.”
A few hours later, after 9pm, “generators for Mike compound stopped which meant that there were no lights”, the report continues. “This incident saw a significant increase in tension.”
Contractors who have worked on Manus have told Guardian Australia that generator failure and food supply were regular issues at the centre.
After 8pm asylum seekers in the camp also complained of “slow food deliveries”, the report observes. “It is possible that slow food deliveries again added to the elevated stress levels in compounds.”
The report shows that earlier in the day, at 5.12 pm, all non-essential staff were removed from the centre as protests grew larger – around 70 people were participating in one demonstration in Oscar compound.
After 6pm, according to the report, the PNG mobile police squad began conversing with asylum seekers inside Oscar compound. More tension was observed as a result of this interaction. At this point two incident response teams (IRTs) – riot squads consisting of local people – were on standby.
Just after 7.30pm a disturbance inside Mike compound was reported. The report states a local employee passed the compound and was “jeered and whistled at by transferees [asylum seekers]”. This incident is described as a “significant event” involving more than 100 asylum seekers. As a result the G4S manager of the site made a decision to remove all local guards and “other personnel” from the centre “as their presence was proving an aggravation”, according to the report. It is unclear whether this order was followed, as the log later notes that a G4S manager at 11.30pm “lost control” of her IRT squad as they dispersed into Mike compound.
Roughly after this point, around 9pm, the log observes that tensions began to ease. “The situation was calm enough for a shift change in G4S personnel and discussion about standing down the mobile squad.”
However things got worse again around the time the PNG dog squad entered the camp. Guardian Australia has previously reported an eyewitness guard’s statement that the dog squad were invited into the “green zone” – an area between Mike and Foxtrot compound – at 9.44pm. The G4S report states that police dog squads entered the camp twice, at one point going into the green zone.
After this moment, the report says, “code greens” – escapes – were observed. Guardian Australia understands that the escapes refer to asylum seekers in Mike compound and Foxtrot compound breaching internal fences, not the external perimeter.
Guardian Australia understands a version of the G4S report was filed on 18 February, the day after the unrest. On that morning immigration minister Scott Morrison said “PNG police did not enter the centre” and said all the violence occurred outside of the perimeter. It is not know if the minister had access to the G4S report, which would have been filed to the immigration department.
While this new extract of the log provides more forensic detail on the night of the unrest, there are still gaps in the timeline from 10-11.20pm.
As previously reported the log later continues that at 11.20pm the fence at Oscar compound was breached.
“At this time,” the report says, “multiple code greens were reported in Oscar compound where transferees had armed themselves with improvised weapons.”
Seven minutes later guards witnessed “police units inside Mike compound”. The log continues: “Observation of ongoing violence between a) police on transferee and b) transferee on transferee.”
At 11.30pm, according to the report, the police mobile squad withdrew from Mike compound and the evacuation of casualties began. But the report says that at exactly the same time the officer in charge of the local G4S riot team “lost control” and members of the team “dispersed into the immediate area of Mike compound”.
Footage of the scenes on the makeshift hospital at the floating accommodation block for contractors, the Bibby, reveals that at 12.41am on 18 February an asylum seeker suffering a gunshot wound was rushed in for treatment.
Morrison did not respond when asked if the latest evidence from the log highlighted that a failure to deliver basic provisions inside the camp contributed to the immediate tension in the the run-up to the unrest.
A spokesman for Morrison’s office said there would be no comment until the investigation run by former civil servant Robert Cornall, which is being “synthesised” with a PNG police investigation, was complete.
“Any and all events that are considered by Mr Cornall to have been relevant to the incident that occurred at Manus Island on the night of February 17 will be addressed in his independent review,” the spokesman said.
“It is appropriate that the investigations into this incident, including Mr Cornall’s review, are allowed to take their course to get to the bottom of what occurred.”
Contacted by Guardian Australian about the latest details, G4S said it was co-operating with both the PNG police and Cornall inquiries, including making staff available for interview, and would not comment on “individual allegations” about the Manus Island incidents.