Immigration centre detainees were mistreated in ‘prison-like’ conditions where staff made dehumanising comments and were quick to use force, a damning inquiry has found.
Brook House immigration removal centre (IRC) was ‘not sufficiently decent, secure or caring for detained people or its staff’, a report into abuse suffered at the ‘toxic’ institution in 2017 concluded.
A total of 19 incidents of mistreatment took place at the detention centre near Gatwick Airport in West Sussex between April and August that year, inquiry chairwoman Kate Eves said.
She claimed an ‘environment flourished’, where ‘unacceptable treatment’ became more likely as part of a ‘toxic culture’ at the site, run by security firm G4S.
Migrants lived in dirty, harmful conditions, suffered from mental health problems and were mistreated, including one incident where a man had pressure applied to his neck by a staff member when he was in distress.
In that incident, a detention custody officer placed his hands around the neck of a detainee and said: ‘You f*****g piece of s***t, because I’m going to put you to f*****g sleep.’
People held at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick respond to demonstrators from groups protesting against plans to send migrants to Rwanda. Picture date: Sunday June 12, 2022
Brook House immigration removal centre (IRC) was ‘not sufficiently decent, secure or caring for detained people or its staff’, a report into the West Sussex-based centre concluded
The shocking conditions later prompted three Afghan refugees to sue the Home Office after claiming to have been locked in the removal centre ‘cells’ for 11 hours every night.
Ms Eves issued 33 recommendations that must be implemented ‘to ensure that other detained people do not suffer in the same way as those at Brook House did’.
The inquiry was launched in 2019, two years after BBC‘s Panorama programme broadcast undercover footage showing alleged abuse towards detainees.
Ten members of staff were dismissed or resigned in the wake of the broadcast.
No prosecutions were brought after a police investigation but two former detainees successfully argued a full independent investigation was needed.
G4S – which made £14.3million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018, according to the National Audit Office – pulled out of running any more IRCs in 2019 and the Brook House contract has since been taken over by outsourcing giant Serco.
The report, published on Tuesday and running to three volumes totalling around 800 pages, detailed a ‘toxic’ culture amongst G4S staff who had been running the centre at the time.
Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock described some of the evidence as ‘utterly harrowing’ and showed the Government had ‘delivered neither control or compassion’.
‘Some of the accounts provided to the inquiry are utterly harrowing; they illustrate the impact of a Government that’s delivered neither control or compassion.’
A 2017 BBC Panorama report showed undercover footage of alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees at the hands of Brook House officers
Ms Eves said: ‘Under the Home Office and its contractor, G4S, Brook House was not sufficiently decent, secure or caring for detained people or its staff at the time these events took place.
‘An environment flourished in which unacceptable treatment became more likely.’
She said she ‘rejected the narrative portrayed by both the Home Office and G4S in their evidence that the events at Brook House were primarily the result of a small minority of G4S staff’, saying such a narrative ‘seeks to distance both organisations from their responsibility for the prevailing culture at the the time’.
A lawyer representing people who were held at Brook House had told the inquiry it should be shut down, but Ms Eves stopped short of calling for it to close.
Among her recommendations, the chairwoman said the Government should introduce a time limit of 28 days maximum for a person to be held at an IRC.
She described the environment at Brook House as ‘harsh’ and ‘prison-like’, saying it was ‘entirely unsuitable for detaining people for anything other than a short period of time’.
The report noted that in July 2017, the average stay at the centre was 44 days, but five people had been there for between one and two years.
Ms Eves referred to one Home Office manager who had told the inquiry that if someone spent more than 24 hours at Brook House ‘you’re going to develop mental health issues’, adding ‘it’s not a nice place to be’.
There was ‘significant understaffing’ and the senior management team was ‘dysfunctional’, the report found.
It was ‘common’ for staff to use ‘racist and derogatory language’ when speaking about detainees and ‘unacceptable, often abusive behaviour was dismissed as banter’, Ms Eves said.
A total of 19 incidents of mistreatment took place at the detention centre near Gatwick Airport in West Sussex between April and August that year, inquiry chairwoman Kate Eves said
Evidence of use of dehumanising language included repeated use of the mocking phrase ‘if he dies, he dies’, Ms Eves said, while there was ‘considerable evidence’ that staff were ‘too quick to employ force’ and that it was at times used to provoke or punish.
Among the 19 incidents of mistreatment which involved 16 men, the report cited a ‘terrifying’ moment – which had been part of the Panorama programme – where a detention custody officer put his hands around a detainee’s neck and called him a ‘f***ing piece of s***’, adding: ‘I’m going to put you to f***ing sleep’.
Other instances included men being forcibly moved when naked or near-naked, physical violence and staff who initially ‘stood and looked’ at a detainee who had been found unconscious having attempted to self-harm ‘without trying to help him’.
The chairwoman recommended that ‘new comprehensive and mandatory rules for how force is used in IRCs is urgently needed’.
Ms Eves called on the Home Office to pay ‘more than mere lip service’ to her findings, noting a ‘dark thread’ running throughout her report of a failure to act on previous recommendations.
She warned that, with the Government having made clear its intention to expand the use of immigration detention, ‘any expansion or other change should be considered in the context of learning lessons from past failures’.
Concluding her report, she added: ‘Many of the safeguards designed to protect vulnerable detained people failed at Brook House during the relevant period and I remain concerned about how those safeguards are operating currently.’
Ms Eves has requested that the Government responds to her recommendations within six months.
A G4S spokesperson said they were ‘appalled when, in 2017, a number of former employees acted in a way that was contrary to our values, policies and their training, and for this we are sorry’.
The Home Office described the abuse at Brook House in 2017 as ‘unacceptable’ and added it is ‘carefully considering every recommendation’ of the inquiry report.
A spokesman added: ‘We remain committed to ensuring safety and security in all immigration removal centres and to learn lessons from Brook House to ensure these events never happen again.’