Home Office remains tight-lipped over ‘secret’ Rwanda deportation training facility

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An aeroplane fuselage being delivered to Shed 2 at Cardington Airfield, 18 November 2023. Image: Drone Photos Sandy/Facebook
An aeroplane fuselage being delivered to Shed 2 at Cardington Airfield, 18 November 2023. Image: Drone Photos Sandy/Facebook

The Home Office has refused to comment on the location of a ‘secret’ facility to train officers being used to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, despite evidence suggesting it’s inside one of the Cardington Sheds near Bedford.

In November 2023, Trevor Monk who runs the We Love Cardington Sheds (Hangars) Facebook page highlighted an exclusive story in The Times revealing that the Home Office has hired an ‘aircraft hangar’ to train Rwanda deportation officers.

The article detailed how ‘staff will mimic different scenarios that the Home Office expects them to encounter when they move migrants onto aircraft bound for Kigali’.

This, said Matt Dathan of The Times, includes ‘immigrants resorting to violence to prevent being put on a plane’ or protesters such as those from Extinction Rebellion playing dead by ‘lying on the floor and refusing to move’.

He also said they were preparing for the prospect of dirty protests and demonstrations by campaigners outside the airbase in an attempt to halt flights.

Then in January The Mirror carried a story that ‘three aeroplane fuselages had been delivered to Cardington Airfield near Bedford in November 2023’.

It also repeated reports that the Home Office ‘has a one-year contract for a hangar [sic] at Cardington’.

The paper also reported that Shed 2, where the fuselages were delivered is partly owned by London and Regional Property, a company owned by billionaire brothers Ian and Richard Livingstone, who gave the Tories nearly £150,000 in 2005-2018.

Mr Monk has kept his usual close eye on the sheds, which have been used for various things, including as filming locations for films such as those in the Star Wars and Batman franchises, TV shows and as a rehearsal space for musicians.

Posting various articles on his page, he also shared that, according to The Sun, ‘An aircraft hangar (sic) used to film Netflix’s Squid Game reality show has been hired for deportation staff to practise forcing asylum-seekers on to planes to Rwanda…

‘…146,000sq ft building on a former RAF base will be used by Home Office contractors for use-of-force training, costing £7.4million…

‘…The studios in Hangar 2 (sic), which boasts one of the highest ceilings in the UK at 158ft, were used for two Christopher Nolan Batman films and, last year, for Netflix competition, Squid Game: The Challenge…’

Then, on Friday (24 May) Tom Symonds the BBC’s home affairs correspondent reported from ‘Inside the secret government Rwanda training base‘.

BBC News says they were given access to a ‘secret training location’ with the condition they didn’t reveal the location.

While the Home Office won’t confirm any further details, Trevor Monk (and many other commenters on social media) say photos from inside the facility used in the story look suspiciously like the interior of Cardington Sheds.

Cardington Sheds artwork created by Trevor Monk in connection to Rwanda deportation flight training. Image: Trevor Monks
Cardington Sheds artwork created by Trevor Monk in connection to Rwanda deportation flight training. Image: Drone Photos Sandy/We love the Cardington Sheds/Facebook

And Mr Monk should know, he’s got a long professional and personal relationship with the sheds and has been inside them more than most over the years.

Commenting on the BBC’s article, Mr Monk has now dubbed the apparent coverup of the sheds being used for deportation training as ‘shedileaks’.

Writing on his Facebook page he said: ‘Shh, it’s a secret. So let’s use the most recognisable structures in Bedfordshire with also the largest front doors in the UK, transport 3 airbus fuselages to the site, by road.

‘And publish photos inside clearly showing a most recognisable interior as well as having houses 70 odd meters from the back wall of the shed. Governmental genius planners ahead. Oh and let’s spend 6 and bit million on it too.’

We asked the Home Office if they would clarify if the Cardington Sheds are the location for the training of Rwanda deportation flight officers..

A spokesperson simply replied, “We will not be providing an ongoing commentary on operational activity”.

Controversy over Rwanda deportation flights

The Rwanda Deportation flight plans have been controversial and have faced difficulties since they were first announced in April 2022.

The plans would see those identified as illegal immigrants or asylum seekers in the UK relocated to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement.

The first flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda was granted permission from the High Court of Justice and scheduled for 14 June 2022.

At the last minute, the European Court of Human Rights halted the plan until the conclusion of legal action in the UK determining the suitability of the flights and the safety of those being deported.

At the end of 2022, the High Court further ruled that though the plan was lawful, the individual cases of eight asylum seekers due to be deported that year had to be reconsidered.

Then the Court of Appeal ruled on 29 June 2023 that the plan was unlawful.

The government appealed against the ruling and hearings began at the Supreme Court on 9 October 2023.

Supreme Court judges unanimously agreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision, finding the plan unlawful on the grounds of deficiencies in Rwanda’s own asylum system.

However, a few days after developing a new treaty with Rwanda, the government introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024, which was passed on 23 April 2024.

Rwanda training faciltiy interior. Image: BBC
A picture of the inside of the Rwanda deportation flight training facility that Trevor Monk says proves it’s inside one of the Cardington Sheds. Image: BBC

The Act overrules the judgments and declares Rwanda a safe country.

Last month, Mr Sunak said an airfield is on standby, with many speculating this to be Boscombe Down. Officials have also said no notice would be given to any flights taking off, in a bid to prevent protestors from causing a disruption.

The General Election announcement earlier this week has thrown possible deportation flights to Rwanda ‘in the air’ even more.

Labour says it would cancel the plan, instead seeking to look directly at illegal channel crossings, giving them the same priority as terrorism and increasing the ability of police, the National Crime Agency and security services to tackle the issue.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has doubled down on his ‘stop the boats’ promise, which the ‘Rwanda Plan’ forms a large part of. He has said deportation flights could begin the day after election day.

While the Home Office does remove failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals, 2,000 could be flown to Rwanda if the Conservatives stay in office.

But, if Labour (or anyone else) enters Number 10, Conservatives (or anyone else) supporting the plan may never see a single flight taking off.