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Systemic brutality and racism at Brook House immigration centre, inquiry concludes

20 September 2023

Cost-effectiveness was ‘prioritised over care and welfare’

Alamy

People held at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, at Gatwick, respond to demonstrators from migrants’-rights groups protesting against plans to send migrants to Rwanda, in June last year

People held at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, at Gatwick, respond to demonstrators from migrants’-rights groups protesting against plan...

A “TOXIC” culture at an immigration detention centre allowed racist, violent, and derogatory treatment of those detained, leading to mistreatment that breached the European Convention on Human Rights, a public inquiry has concluded. In its recommendations, the inquiry has urged the Government to change the law to limit detention to 28 days, to prevent further abuses at detention centres.

The abuse of migrants at Brook House, West Sussex, was first exposed by the BBC in 2017, after it was approached by a whistle-blower, and a reporter filmed undercover footage of assaults, humiliation, and verbal assaults by staff, which was then shown on Panorama.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph after the broadcast, 17 bishops, the for­mer Chief Inspector of Prisons, and representatives of the Methodist and Baptist Churches and the Church of Scotland demanded that the Govern­ment end indefinite immigration detention (News, 8 September 2017).

A public inquiry was subsequently set up, chaired by Kate Eves. Among those coming forward to give evidence was a former manager at Brook House, the Revd Nathan Ward, who left in 2014 to train for ordination (News, 17 December 2021). He is now Vicar of St Margaret’s, Rainham, in Kent.

After the publication of the inquiry’s 800-page report on the abuse on Tuesday, Mr Ward said: “We cannot and must not ignore the systemic brutality and racism that has thrived within the walls of Brook House.

“The chair has found that Brook House became a ‘breeding ground for racist views’, where individuals were emboldened to express their prejudices without fear of consequence. It is a stain on our collective conscience that such an environment was allowed to flourish.

“If we want to see the face of Jesus today, then we could start by heading to Brook House, and looking into the faces of those held in our detention centres. When we defend the rights of the refugee, the unjustly imprisoned, the tortured, the mocked, we are standing up for Jesus, because he went through all these experiences, too.”

The inquiry identified 19 instances of abuse over a five-month period, including inappropriate use of force, forcibly moving detainees while they were naked, dangerous restraint techniques, homophobic comments, and humiliating comments made to two of those detained during their attempt to take their own life.

On one occasion, officers stood by when someone was found unconscious after attempting to take their own life. On another, pressure was applied to a detained man’s neck while he was already in extreme distress.

The Home Office has since transferred the management of Brook House from G4S Care and Justice Service, but Ms Eves said that the contract should never have been awarded.

“Cost-effectiveness was prioritised over the care and welfare of detailed people,” she said. “Brook House was not sufficiently decent, secure, or caring for detained people or its staff at a time when these events took place.”

It was, she said, “entirely unsuitable for detaining people for anything other than a short period of time”.

The site is now managed by Serco, but the inquiry has warned that many of the issues present during the period of its investigation still persist under the new administration. “I am particularly concerned by the lack of reflection by some of those who remain working at Brook House, a number of whom are now in more senior roles,” Ms Eves said.

She has asked the Government to respond to the inquiry’s 33 recommendations within six months.

The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, acknowledged that there had been “failings in both oversight and governance to protect the welfare of detained individuals” at the centre. She told MPs in a written statement in the House of Commons that “significant improvements to immigration detention” had been made since the documentary was filmed.

Since the documentary, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that there have been 53 allegations of serious misconduct at Brook House, which may have resulted in disciplinary proceedings, although the Home Office refused to confirm how many had been substantiated.

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