Brook House: High Court rules immigration detainees abused by G4S staff can seek public inquiry

'I’ve seen some horrible things. I’ve seen staff going out of their way to make detainees miserable, just so they can get a kick out of it'

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 22 May 2018 17:40 BST
Secet filming by the BBC exposes inhumane conditions inside Brook House- a G4S-run immigration center

The High Court has ruled immigration detainees allegedly abused at the hands of staff at Brook House removal centre are allowed to seek an independent inquiry from the Home Office.

Two men who were seen being physically assaulted by G4S guards in footage aired on the BBC’s Panorama programme argued that the government failed to commission an adequate inquiry into the abuse they suffered.

The claimants, both of whom are no longer in detention, called for a public, independent process with cross-examination and their participation with legal representation.

Mr Justice Holman granted them permission to apply for judicial proceedings against the Home Office, saying he had some “strong concerns” about what the Panorama evidence exposed.

Lawyers said the permission to seek a public inquiry could be a “turning point” in the way removal centres are run, and potentially expose further failings in the system that currently remain hidden.

One of the claimants, known only as BB, who is seen being abused at the hands of G4S officers in the Panorama documentary, told The Independent the footage was "not even the half" of abuse that takes place in Brook House, and stressed that many detainees' voices were not being heard.

Undercover footage aired on the BBC in September showed detainees in Brook House being abused, insulted, restrained and humiliated by guards amid drug abuse and suicide attempts.

The director of Brook House resigned three weeks after the scandal broke and nine members of staff were suspended from duty, but no criminal proceedings have been brought and no independent inquiry launched.

Nick Armstrong, barrister at Matrix Chambers who was representing BB, told The Independent a public inquiry was the only way to effectively affirm what happened and potentially expose further “hidden” abuse.

He said: “The Home Office has accepted only what was in the footage, but it is clear from the Panorama film that it is left right and centre. It’s on wings, on landings, they then boast about it in the staff room and the reception centre. This is not hidden.

“We’ve had report after report but they are essentially hand-wringing and speculating as to why it happened. Unless you get a proper and effective inquiry - where this incidents took place, who was there on the day – you’re not going to get any further.

“A proper inquiry could be a turning point. We have a particularly group here, and on top of that is these centres are run by private organisations. It is all shunted down to the lowest cost level and it fractures the delivery of services.”

BB, who has lived in the UK since he was a young child but was detained for nearly three years, said following the hearing that he saw abuse take place on a daily basis.

“This is not even the half of it. It’s happening daily. One staff will cover the other one. There are people still there right now who were culprits themselves, and they’re still working. But they’re not in the video so no one is saying anything,” he said.

“In a way I’m grateful that all this is coming to the surface, but on the other hand I think 'What is the point?' Nothing has been done about this. It’s been a year and this is dragging on. Today is the first time we’ve started to see a bit of justice.

“There are people who are left in there, others who have been deported without their voices being heard. It’s sad. We’re living in one of the best countries in the world, why are people covering up this abuse? It stops me from sleeping at night.”

BB said that during his time in Brook House his mental health deteriorated due to the way he was treated by staff and the suffering he witnessed of others, including seeing one try to take his own life.

“I don’t like to think about it, but I’ve seen some horrible things. I’ve seen staff going out of their way to make detainees miserable, just so they can get a kick out of it. And when you go complain to the senior manager, nothing happens. The complaints system doesn’t work.

Lewis Kett of Duncan Lewis, who is representing the other claimant, said: “This is an important step on the way to what we’re seeking to achieve, which is an independent inquiry to establish what happened to our clients and why, and whether it was a wider system is failings.

“The reality is we wouldn’t be able to pursue it any further unless we got it through today. It would get to the root of the problem and establishing what went wrong.”

In response to the ruling, Labour’s Diane Abbott told The Independent: “It should not come as a surprise that the shocking footage from the Panorama expose has opened up legal challenges.

“There have been reports of abuses of immigration detainees across the system. Labour in government is committed to closing Brook House and the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centres."

The Home Office prompted outrage earlier this month when it emerged that despite the recorded abuse, G4S’ contract to run the Brook House immigration removal centre had been extended for another two years.

It came shortly after a report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) revealed that use of force against detainees in the centre had soared by more than 160 per cent in just two years.

Emma Ginn, director of charity Medical Justice, said: "We hope this will lead to an independent public inquiry which we expect will uncover the institutional, systemic abuse in immigration detention and the extent of the medical harm suffered by detainees, as documented by Medical Justice for over a decade."

She said the level of healthcare failures the charity's volunteer doctors uncovered during visits to removal centres was "deeply disturbing", adding: "The Home Office must accept its part of the responsibility for failing to identity or stop these abuses."

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the EHRC, said she was pleased with the ruling, adding: “The Britain in which we live should be a country where no one is made subject to humiliation and abuse when in state custody.

"Following the BBC’s Panorama investigation, that showed poor treatment of detainees, we believe that human rights law makes the government responsible for conducting an independent investigation. This would show a real desire to know what happened and to prevent it ever happening again."

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