July 14 2024
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‘Damning’ Brook House inquiry finds abuse, degrading treatment, and a ‘toxic culture’

‘Damning’ Brook House inquiry finds abuse, degrading treatment, and a ‘toxic culture’

Covert footage filmed inside Brook House, near Gatwick Airport (BBC)

An inquiry into Brook House immigration detention centre has found a ‘toxic culture’ and numerous breaches of human rights law, including inhuman or degrading treatment and torture.

The investigation has taken three years and is the first of its kind into an immigration detention facility. It was ordered by the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, after a BBC Panorama documentary revealed abuse by staff obtained through hidden camera footage. 

Undertaken during a five month period in 2017, the report is long and wide-reaching. It details failings ranging from the bidding process which determined who took over the private contract to run the facility, the staff culture and inspection protocols, to individual instances of mistreatment and abuse.

During the five month inspection, investigators found 19 instances where individuals’ human rights were breached. These included the inappropriate use of force against detainees, dangerous restraint techniques, homophobic abuse, and failing to help a detainee after they had attempted to take their own life.

The inquiry found that staff used force to ‘provoke and punish’ detainees. The report refers to footage from the Panorama documentary where a distressed detainee was strangled by a member of staff who told the detainee “I’m going to put you to fucking sleep”. 

Staff members were racist and derogatory to detainees, to the extent of dehumanising them. One phrase was repeated by staff during the investigation: “if he dies, he dies”.

The report details ‘unusually high’ instances of force used against detainees while they were naked, deliberately humiliating them. It recounts detainees being carried naked and screaming through the centre. In one case, a man was handcuffed in his cell, and one staff member asked another after the incident whether he ‘manage[d] to get any digs in’.

During the time of the investigation there was an escalation in the use of the psychoactive drug, spice, and many detainees were suffering mental ill health. As reported by The Justice Gap, the Panorama documentary revealed staff were smuggling illegal drugs into the centre. The report says there was a ‘disregard’ of safeguarding protocols for the most vulnerable detainees, including among healthcare staff who ‘lacked empathy’ and even took a ‘mocking approach’ to the men in their care. This is despite a significant number of the detainees having been victims of torture, or otherwise traumatised by their experiences. 

Brook House is situated near Gatwick Airport, and was intended to be used for short-term detention only where someone had a ‘realistic prospect’ of being removed from the UK within a short period of time. However, under current immigration law there is no fixed or maximum period of time in which someone may be detained in any Immigration Removal Centre in the UK. At the time of the investigation, the average length of time someone was detained at Brook House was 44 days, with several people having been there for over a year. 

The Chair of the inquiry has outlined 33 recommendations for Brook House, and all other IRCs, to prevent the breaches outlined recurring. She said the failure to act on previous recommendations was a ‘dark thread’ that runs through this latest report.

The charity, Refugee Council, has described the inquiry as ‘damning’, and said it ‘has not only exposed grave safeguarding failures but shown clearly that the Home Office is not able to provide basic levels of care and humanity for vulnerable people in detention’. 

In a statement, the Home Office has said: ‘The abuse that took place at Brook House in 2017 was unacceptable. The government has made significant improvements since then to uphold the welfare and dignity of those detained including strengthening safeguards, promoting a culture of transparency and improving the oversight of contractors performance.’

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