A shocking investigation found that officers at a UK detention center suffocated, abused migrants and forced them to leave their cells naked in a “toxic culture” where detainees were abused in “prison-like” conditions.
An 800-page report into conditions at the Brook House Immigration Removal Center in West Sussex found guards used physical violence to “punish” detainees while dismissing “unacceptable, often abusive” behavior as a “joke.”
In a “horrifying” incident described in the report, a detention officer at the former G4S site near Gatwick Airport put his hands around the neck of a distressed detainee and said: “You bloody piece of shit.” because I want you “I’m going to fucking put you to sleep.”
Other shocking incidents included men being forcibly removed from their cells when they were naked or nearly naked, and officers repeatedly using inhumane language, including mocking expressions such as: “If he dies, he dies.”
The report, which examined conditions at the center between April and August 2017, also concluded:
- 19 violations of human rights laws related to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
- Examples of staff using “abusive, racist and derogatory language” towards prisoners
- There is evidence that men are being held in “harsh” and “prison-like” conditions, including being forced to share dirty cells with poor ventilation and unshielded toilets
- Examples of staff inflicting “unreasonable” pain and using equipment such as shields and balaclavas in an “intimidating” manner
Chairwoman Kate Eves said she rejected the Home Office and G4S’s portrayal that the incidents at Brook House were the result of a “small minority” of G4S staff.
She also said she was “particularly disturbed” by statements made by some staff who continue to work at Brook House, noting that “even those who now hold senior positions lack reflection”.
“This raises doubts about how far the cultural changes that were described to me have actually taken place. I fear there is still a long way to go,” she said.
Ms Eves called for sweeping changes to ensure “people do not suffer in the same way as those at Brook House”, including the introduction of a 28-day detention period.
She also called for renewed orders on the use of force and called on the Home Office to immediately issue instructions to contractors “that force must only be used as a last resort and using approved techniques”.
Ms Eves warned that more detainees in immigration centers could face inhumane treatment if her 33 recommendations were not fully implemented.
“I believe that if the recommendations are not implemented across the board and there is no public accountability for how these recommendations are implemented, there is a great risk that the same thing could happen (again).” She particularly emphasized the need for a 28-day detention period .
She said: “The 28 day period for detaining immigrants in a prison-like environment is incredibly important. All the evidence I have seen supports this. I am not the first to make this recommendation. I think it’s very important that this is taken into account.”
Labour’s shadow immigration minister, Stephen Kinnock, said some of the evidence at the inquiry was “completely shocking” and showed the government had “shown neither control nor compassion”.
Activists also condemned the government over the results. Medical Justice, a charity that works with prisoners to protect their legal and medical rights, said evidence from the investigation showed the Home Office was responsible for “inhumane and degrading treatment of the people in its care”.
Director Emma Ginn said: “It is a tragedy that a public inquiry is needed to take seriously the shocking statements made by those detained.” They have finally been vindicated.
“There is an urgent need for action; The evidence couldn’t be clearer.”
Amnesty UK said the findings of the Brook House inquiry were a “damning indictment of how the detention of immigrants is carried out in this country”.
The investigation was launched in November 2019 after a BBC Panorama broadcast in September 2017, which aired harrowing undercover footage of alleged abuse of detainees by detention officers.
The report identified 19 incidents over a five-month period that could constitute ill-treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This article states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Ms Eves said: “That I have found this number of incidents to have occurred within such a limited five-month period is a matter of great concern.”
“According to the Home Office and its contractor G4S, at the time of these events Brook House was not sufficiently decent, safe and cared for the people in detention or staff.
“It created an environment in which unacceptable treatment became more likely.”
Ms. Eves cited dangerous restraint techniques and examples of derogatory comments, including from staff toward a man recovering from medical treatment after a drug overdose.
A detainee found to be particularly vulnerable to self-harm and suicide was subjected to threatening comments and denied access to a shower, preventing him from taking part in a cleansing ritual that was part of his religion, it is claimed in the report
Ms. Eves noted the often heightened vulnerability of a person who could end up in such a detention center.
“There is no role more important for the state than that of protector of those incarcerated and those in its care,” she said.
“People without citizenship are inherently more vulnerable due to their precarious status, and factors such as language barriers or poor health can interact to make them even more vulnerable to harm.”
The report criticized the site itself, which was designed to the specifications of a Category B prison, including “high barbed wire fences”, even though the inmates were not prisoners. Witnesses who testified at the inquiry described the prison as “unfit for purpose” and said it did not have the facilities to house inmates for “more than a few days,” although many stayed there for significantly longer.
The facility was overcrowded and detainees often had no access to the Internet because “websites were unnecessarily restricted and, all too often, computers were broken.”
Drug use was a “significant problem” at Brook House, particularly the psychoactive substance Spice. There was a “feeling of defeat” among staff in dealing with the problem and dealing with prisoners who had taken the drug.
The report makes 33 recommendations that, if implemented, could create “a more humane, compassionate and professional environment for immigrant detention.”
One of the key recommendations is that the government should introduce a new policy that would require detainees to be held in detention centers for a maximum of 28 days.
This raises questions about the viability of the Home Office’s plans to expand immigration detention in the UK.
“The administration has made clear its intention to expand immigrant detention.
The recommendation comes just weeks after the passage of the Illegal Migration Act, which gives the interior minister the power to detain people indefinitely.
The Chairperson has called on the Home Office and other recipients to publish their responses to the report within six months.
She added: “I sincerely hope that this report is more than just lip service. The events at Brook House cannot be repeated.”
G4S has now ceased operations at Brook House and outsourcing giant Serco has taken over management.
A Home Office spokesman said the abuse was “unacceptable” but said the government had since made “significant improvements to safeguard the welfare and dignity of those detained”.
“We remain committed to ensuring security in all detention centers and learning lessons from Brook House to ensure such events are never repeated,” the Home Office said.
A G4S spokesman said: “G4S has fully supported the Brook House inquiry and will carefully consider the inquiry’s recommendations.
“The vast majority of staff at Brook House Immigration Removal Center focused on the well-being of those detained and performed their duties to a high standard, often in exceptionally difficult circumstances.
“We were appalled in 2017 when a number of former employees behaved in a manner that ran counter to our values, policies and training, and for that we are sorry. This behavior was unacceptable and the company took swift action, including firing several individuals and commissioning an independent review by Verita.”