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Brook House should close in wake of abuse allegations, inquiry told

A general view of D Wing at Brook House immigration removal centre (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A general view of D Wing at Brook House immigration removal centre (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Brook House detention centre should be shut down after “shocking patterns of inhumane and degrading treatment” were uncovered, a public inquiry has heard.

Evidence given during the investigation into abuse allegations at the West Sussex immigration removal centre (IRC) between April and August 2017 has been described as “harrowing”.

The inquiry was launched after BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast undercover footage in September of that year showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the then G4S-run site.

Stephanie Harrison QC, one of the lawyers representing people who were held at Brook House and are taking part in the inquiry, urged chairwoman Kate Eves to follow conclusions of independent inspectors that the site was an “inappropriate environment” for detainees.

She said: “This inquiry should conclude that Brook House must not be used as an IRC going forward.”

Describing the evidence heard as “harrowing”, she said in a closing statement on Tuesday: “This inquiry has uncovered shocking patterns of inhumane and degrading treatment of detained persons, central to which is the overuse and misuse of force and segregation, often without lawful authority or justification, and segregation used as punishment.

“The normalisation of the infliction of pain, suffering and humiliation, even whilst detained when naked. In addition, we’ve seen extensive evidence of the pervasive violent, derogatory and debasing verbal abuse.

“And in addition, racism – vitriolic, casual, and institutional – underscored by an underlying lack of empathy, even when individuals are at their most distressed and vulnerable, even in life or potentially life-threatening situations.”

Ten members of staff were dismissed or resigned in the wake of the broadcast.

Inquiry chairwoman Kate Eves
Inquiry chairwoman Kate Eves (Kate Eves/Brook House Inquiry/PA)

No prosecutions were brought after a police investigation, but two former detainees successfully argued a full independent investigation was needed.

G4S has since stopped running Brook House as well as Tinsley House, which are both next to Gatwick Airport. Outsourcing giant Serco took over in 2020.

Ms Harrison told the hearing that several officers whose misconduct “has only been fully exposed by the inquiry” still work at Brook House, with some having been promoted.

The evidence of senior Home Office officials “confirm a state body that is driven by political imperatives to sacrifice welfare on the altar of enforcement and administrative convenience”, she said as she described the department as putting “cost-cutting over safety and care”.

Details heard by the inquiry “confirmed the utter disinterest in criticisms of its actions, failures of its policies and practices – whether by oversight bodies, judges, coroners or its own appointed reviewer.

“It is clearly cavalier about its legal duties and the adverse impacts on those it detains and is apparently indifferent to ensuring the necessary changes to prevent the repeated abuse and mistreatment occur,” she added.

On Monday, the Home Office’s director of immigration detention and escorting services Phil Riley apologised to detainees involved in the “distressing incidents” exposed by Panorama and over “failures” in the Brook House contract.

He told the inquiry: “I would also like to take the chance … to apologise to the people at Brook House in 2017 who suffered the distressing incidents we saw in Panorama.

“I have reflected over the period and the failures in the contract, in the level of Home Office supervision, are deeply distressing for everybody and I would like to open today just to apologise about that.”

The inquiry has now finished hearing evidence. Closing statements will continue on Wednesday before Ms Eves concludes the sessions to consider her findings, which are expected to be published in due course.