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A confidential sexual harassment reporting line is to be introduced for female guests in quarantine hotels.

A confidential sexual harassment reporting line is to be introduced for female guests in quarantine hotels.

The move by the Department for Health and Social Care comes after another woman reported being harassed by a male security guard.

Last month the DHSC tried to tackle the problem by saying that female guests should be supervised by female guards.

However, only 10% of security officers are women and some female guests say they still rarely see female guards.

The DHSC’s earlier attempt to solve the problem followed BBC reports revealing that a number of women had experienced sexual harassment from male guards in quarantine hotels, and that their complaints were sometimes ignored.

It also said in July that guards would get extra training on how to interact with lone women, and set up a dedicated complaints team to deal with problems in quarantine hotels.

But Lorna Farmer, 28, from Northamptonshire, began being pestered by a male guard soon after she arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn at Birmingham airport on 25 July, a few days after the new measures were publicised.

He asked to see her in her pyjamas, and asked to enter her room, she says, knocking repeatedly on her door and sometimes sitting on the floor outside it.

Hotel quarantine
Travellers arriving from countries on the UK’s red list have to quarantine for 10 full days in designated hotels
Nearly 124,000 people had been through the system by mid-July
The cost is £1,750 for a single adult, rising to £2,285 on 12 August, and includes Covid tests on days two and eight
Guests must stay in their room at all times except when escorted outside by guards for exercise – food is delivered to the room and guests do their own cleaning
Security companies are hired by the government – the maximum value of Mitie’s contract from February to October is £19.6m, the maximum value of G4s’s is £66.5m

On one occasion, when she was cleaning her room, he said: “Why don’t you put that Hoover down and I’ll come in and entertain you,” Ms Farmer says.

When she complained to the head of the security team in the hotel, from the company Mitie, the guard was removed. But Ms Farmer says a different guard had also made lewd comments to female guests during their exercise break, so she still felt unsafe and got her father to come and drive her home.

She then reported the harassment to Northamptonshire police.

Mitie said: “Should a complaint be raised by a guest a full investigation is carried out. In this case, the investigation found that the officer had not followed our procedures and therefore is no longer working on the contract.”

Asked whether he was still working for Mitie, and whether he might now be working at a different quarantine hotel, a spokesperson said she could not share personal information about staff.

The Hilton Garden Inn emphasised that security firms were contracted by the DHSC and fell outside its responsibility.

The DHSC said: “Sexual harassment or abuse is completely unacceptable and totally abhorrent. We take all such allegations extremely seriously and we expect providers to take firm action – including suspending staff or reporting them to the police where appropriate – as has happened in this case.”

It said the new confidential reporting line for lone female guests would be staffed by recently retired and trained police officers, and that it would provide guests with more options to raise concerns.

Altogether, 18 women have reported harassment to the BBC – two of them, including Lorna Farmer, after the new rules came in.

The other woman, who is still in quarantine, says that a male security guard knocked on her door twice in one evening, giving a transparently bogus reason for wanting to talk to her. She said she felt unsafe, was not reporting the incident and was not leaving her room.

Ms Farmer told the BBC that when she went outside for exercise at the Hilton Garden Inn, she was always escorted by a single male guard, despite the DHSC’s intention that lone female guests should get female guards. Three other women quarantining since the rule change have told the BBC that they too had male guards.

Others have said that they have mostly had female guards, though one added that “once you’re outside it’s like being a walking exhibit with male guards sitting all around the parking lot like it’s a gallery and looking you up and down as you walk”.

In July, the government said that if female guards were unavailable, lone women should be escorted by two male guards, “with each guard chaperoning the other to ensure appropriate behaviour”. This idea was sharply criticised by some women’s safety campaigners and, judging from the reports of women in quarantine, appears to have been rarely adopted in practice.

After walking out of the Hilton Garden Inn on Friday and spending the weekend at home, Lorna Farmer was called on Tuesday by an official who told her that West Midlands police were looking for her, and that she could be arrested and fined £10,000 if she didn’t return to quarantine.

She says she felt very uneasy when two men then arrived in a van with darkened windows to accompany her to another quarantine hotel, the Crowne Plaza NEC. Here she was escorted outside for exercise by a female security guard, but says she only saw male guards on her corridor.

Mitie says there was a female guard on her floor at all times, and that at least two female officers were always on shift at each hotel, in line with DHSC guidance. The company added that it was taking active steps to increase the number of female officers working in quarantine hotels.

‘Disgusted’
Ms Farmer says she thinks it is “ridiculous” for lone women to be forced to quarantine in hotels when their safety cannot be guaranteed.

“The woman from public health said, ‘Lorna, are you aware that West Midlands police are looking for you, that they’ve put you down as absconded?’ I was like, ‘No, I spoke to Northamptonshire Police and reported everything that’s happened, and they are absolutely happy with me being home.’ And she was like, ‘You have to come back today, otherwise we will come and get you and you’ll be prosecuted and fined.’ And I was like, ‘Are you serious? After everything that’s happened?'”

Ms Farmer was allowed to leave the hotel on Thursday, 11 days after she arrived in the UK from Dubai.

West Midlands Victims’ Commissioner Nicky Brennan said she was “disgusted” to hear how women were being treated by security staff in quarantine hotels.

“The government who have given the contract and the security company need to investigate the practices, training and conduct of staff with urgency. People who are quarantining in hotels at the orders of the government should not have to feel unsafe when following those rules.

“This would appear to be a problem across the country with security staff in these hotels. It’s worrying for anybody, especially lone women that they could be treated in this way. They should not be put in this position by a government which is meant to be keeping them safe.”