UK Public Inquiry finds conditions in immigration detention centre ‘truly shocking’

Following an investigation by BBC Panorama in 2017 which revealed “widespread self-harm and attempted suicides” at the Brook House Immigration Removal and Detention centre, a public inquiry was eventually established to look into conditions at the centre at that time. The Inquiry was chaired by Kate Eaves, a seasoned Independent Consultant on Custody & Detention Safety and Effective Oversight.

Conditions in the facility ‘completely unacceptable’ and ‘toxic’

On Tuesday 19th September, Kate Eaves, finally published her report which described conditions at the time as ‘completely unacceptable’ and a ‘toxic environment’. Speaking on BBC and other networks, she explained that during her 5-month investigation, she had recorded 19 instances of ‘serious mistreatment’. She said:

‘In that 5-month period…the evidence that I saw, the levels of stress and distress (bearing in mind that I have spent 25 years working in these types of environment), was truly shocking… I don’t accept that this was just due to the poor actions of a small number of staff. What I found was evidence of a cultural problem within the facility at that time.’

Brook House – ‘fundamentally unsafe’

Back in 2010, the Brook House facility had been described by the then Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, as ‘fundamentally unsafe.’ Dame Owers had reported that the average detention time was then 3 months and for some, as long as ten months.

Inhuman treatment

It was not until the BBC Panorama programme in 2017, that the full gravity of the shocking conditions in the facility became public. The revelations resulted in the terminations of a number of contracts of senior staff working at the site for G4S – the independent company responsible for managing Brook House and a string of other UK prisons, A Home Office Professional Standards Unit Inquiry, found that treatment of some of the detainees amounted to ‘inhuman treatment’ and it advised that staff working for G4S had colluded to not record such events. A Crown Prosecution Service criminal investigation however, found insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against a number of the employees. As a result of a catalogue of abuse cases at the centre, in July 2019, a High Court ruled that there should be a public inquiry.

Protesters outside Brook House against deportations to Rwanda July 2022

‘ A place of stress and distress’

Kate Eaves’ report published today, represents the conclusion of the inquiry and it produced evidence that detainees were regularly moved while naked or semi naked, while others subjected to unnecessary pain. She said that the facility was a place of ‘stress and distress’. It reported instances where dangerous restraint techniques were used on detainees, rampant homophobia and racism. There were even cases where assistance was deliberately withheld as detainees attempted suicide. The facility the report said, was overcrowded, dirty and subject to noise pollution from the aircraft taking off and landing at the nearby Gatwick Airport. Kate Eaves explained that the facility was ‘entirely unsuitable for the detention of people for anything other than a short period of time and she sought a change in the law which would limit the number of days that detainees could be kept in such an environment. She said:

33 Recommendations including a new law to limit detention period

‘I have made 33 recommendations and those recommendations are in a number of different areas. One of those is around the need to make sure that the staffing and the way that staff are trained and the way that they are managed and overseen, actually better reflects the kind of demands that are placed on people who are working in those environments. They are very complex – they are dealing with people who are often in very distressing situations and so it is very important that they are equipped to do that properly and that they are supervised by senior people within that system. I’ve also made a recommendation that there should be a 28 day time limit on detention – on the period of time that people can be held in an environment such as Brook House…[which] was designed to the model of a category B prison and immigration detainees are not prisoners…arrangements would need to be made for another place for them to be housed.’

Protesters outside Brook House against deportations to Rwanda July 2022

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary cancelled detention centre inspections and ‘ does not have the will to face up to the challenges’

David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, revealed in Tuesday 20th September’s Guardian newspaper, that he had warned the Home Office of major concerns relating to Brook House, which were ignored. Instead he says, Suella Braverman, The Home Secretary terminated the commission responsible for the annual ICBI inspection of immigration detention centres. David Neal said:

‘While the findings in my reports – like those of the Brook House inquiry – are worrying in themselves, perhaps even more concerning is my conclusion that the Home Office does not have the will to face up to the challenges’

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