Brook House: Scandal-hit immigration removal centre run by G4S 'should only hold detainees for a few weeks', report finds

Damning study comes amid calls for government to impose time limit on immigration detention 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 04 December 2018 23:12 GMT
A general view of D Wing on the official opening of Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, next to Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.
A general view of D Wing on the official opening of Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, next to Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. (PA)

A scandal-hit immigration removal centre where G4S guards were filmed abusing detainees is only suitable to hold people for “a few weeks” at the most, a review has found.

But some detainees at Brook House, near Gatwick Airport, have been held there for several years amid disputes about whether they can legally be deported.

Inspectors were given access to Brook House over five months starting in November 2017, in the wake of undercover footage broadcast on BBC Panorama from inside the centre.

It showed detainees being abused and humiliated while self-harming and taking drugs, and an asylum seeker detained there after the scandal broke told The Independent it was a “dangerous place”.

An independent report commissioned by G4S found the centre had been short-staffed and officers were badly trained, driving violence among “under-occupied and bored” detainees who were given little to do.

Inspectors from the Verita consultancy said they did not witness any inappropriate behaviour by G4S staff during their visit, and detainees did not suggest abuse was widespread.

But some said their interactions with staff were “dehumanising” and called healthcare workers “uncaring”, “arrogant” and “unkind”.

The report concluded that Brook House did not provide suitable accommodation for vulnerable or mentally ill detainees, who are currently mixed in with failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers and foreign national offenders being deported after serving prison sentences.

“Some detainees have been victims of violence, torture and other traumatic events. Many detainees at Brook House have mental health issues,” the report said.

Secet filming by the BBC exposes inhumane conditions inside Brook House- a G4S-run immigration center

“The physical constraints and the lack of facilities at Brook House make it unsuitable to house the number of detainees it does. They also make it unsuitable to hold any detainee for more than a few weeks.”

Britain is the only country in Europe not to have a time limit on immigration detention and a High Court case over mistreatment by G4S guards at Brook House was brought by a man who had been detained for three years.

Of those who left detention in the year ending June 2017, 28 per cent were there for between 29 days and four months and 1,943 were detained for more more than four months – of whom 172 had been in detention for between one and two years.

The conditions in which people are held has come into focus following several suicides.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, vowed that her party would close Brook House and women’s detention centre Yarl’s Wood and review the entire immigration estate if elected.

Brook House, which opened in 2009, is managed by G4S on behalf of the Home Office and can hold up to 448 men.

The centre, which is built to the security standard of a category B jail, was found to be cleaned to a poor standard and with dated facilities.

The report revealed a serious disturbance in November 2017 when officers feared they'd “lost control” of the centre after a “mass refusal” by detainees to be locked up at lunchtime.

Inspectors warned that violence and bullying among detainees “was not properly managed” and staff’s inexperience was making them “frustrated and aggressive”.

“We were given further cause for concern about staff attitudes to the use of force on detainees,” the report added.

“Body worn cameras were bought for all staff in 2017 but a lack of trainers delayed their introduction and staff showed a marked reluctance to wear them.”

While whistleblowing procedures have been improved, inspectors said an “assertive and laddish culture” among managers meant colleagues felt unable to report unacceptable behaviour.

“These cultural issues, together with an absence of strong visible management … heightened the risk of incidents of inappropriate or abusive behaviour by staff at Brook House,” the report said.

Samim Bigzad, an asylum seeker who was kept at Brook House between August and September 2017, said he met suicidal people and saw drugs being smuggled into the centre near Gatwick airport.

“It’s a dangerous place, there are dangerous people,” he told The Independent.

Mr Bigzad said he saw detainees receiving drugs inside the centre and some operating “like a gang”.

“I saw some people who wanted to kill themselves,” he added, describing people frequently being restrained by guards.

The Afghan asylum seeker claimed one G4S guard told him “f*** off, get out of my face” after he asked for toilet paper, and another ordered detainees back to their cells by saying: “Go to your rooms, dogs.”

Protesters calling for the closure of Brook House at the Home Office in London on 6 September 2017
Protesters calling for the closure of Brook House at the Home Office in London on 6 September 2017 (Supplied)

Since the Panorama programme was broadcast in September 2017 the report said 15 of the 21 staff allegedly involved in the incidents have left G4S.

Of those, 11 of these were dismissed or left, three resigned and one was dismissed after “subsequent similar behaviours”.

G4S said actions to address the majority of the 52 recommendations have been completed, or are in the process of being implemented, with 12 requiring further development or agreement with the Home Office.

The company’s managing director of detention services, Jerry Petherick, said G4S accepted the recommendations in full and was working to “strengthen the welfare and safeguarding of detainees”.

“I am confident that, under the leadership of centre director Phil Wragg, we will continue to build on the actions taken already to create a safe, secure and engaging environment for staff and detainees at Brook House,” he added.

The Home Office said it would “consider the report carefully and acknowledge that there are lessons to be learned for the Home Office and the detention estate as a whole”.

“Detention is an important part of the immigration system but it must be fair, dignified and protect the most vulnerable,” a spokesperson said.

“In July, the home secretary announced a series of reforms to immigration detention in response to Stephen Shaw’s review.

“This included doing more work with partners to develop further alternatives to detention, improving support for the most vulnerable, the introduction of a new drive on dignity and a commitment to be more transparent.

“We have always been clear that we expect the highest standards from detainee custody officers and others who work with detainees, and we will work closely with G4S to ensure that these recommendations and fully implemented over the coming months.”

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