Inspection finds no evidence of abusive culture at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre

By agency reporter
September 26, 2019

An enhanced inspection approach, involving extensive interviews, was used when inspectors returned to Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) at Gatwick nearly two years after a covert BBC film showed apparent abuse by staff, a new inspection report says.

The additional interviews with detainees and staff during an inspection in May and June 2019 did not disclose staff behaviour like that seen in the Panorama documentary in 2017.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that 10 months after the previous inspection, in October and November 2016, “Panorama showed members of staff at Brook House acting in what seemed to be a violent and inappropriate manner towards detainees.”

Mr Clarke added that in the 2019 inspection, “we wanted to establish whether we had missed indications of abuse or poor behaviour during our inspection in 2016.” An enhanced methodology was introduced, with additional inspection staff to conduct extensive interviews with detainees and staff. Every detainee was offered the opportunity to speak privately to an inspector, using interpretation where needed. This offer was extended to detainees who had left the centre. Inspectors also undertook confidential interviews with a proportion of staff from all disciplines working in the centre, and issued a survey to all staff. This methodology, Mr Clarke said, provided “multiple opportunities to identify potential concerns.”

He added: “We found no evidence that the abusive culture shown by the Panorama programme was present among the current staff group at Brook House. On the contrary, our detainee survey and interviews found that most detainees were positive about the way they were treated by staff. We found improved training of staff employed in the centre, whistleblowing procedures that staff members had confidence in, and a much-improved ratio of staff numbers to detainees.”

As in 2016, Brook House was found to be reasonably good across all assessments. “However, the judgements themselves mask some distinct and positive developments, brought about by a determination to address the issues raised by the TV programme, to change and to improve. Nevertheless, the managers of the centre are very aware that there is still much to do.”

Levels of violence were low, though the IRC needed to understand why self-harm had significantly increased and to respond to the inspection survey in which 40 per cent of detainees said they had felt suicidal at some point while in the centre. Inspectors also found that detainees spent too much time locked in their cells, and some aspects of security were unnecessarily stringent.

The average length of detention had markedly declined since 2016. Where people were held for lengthy periods, “our findings suggested this was due to delays in casework, as well as problems in finding suitable accommodation and in obtaining travel documents.”

Mr Clarke said that with nearly half of the detainees at Brook House having served prison sentences, the opportunities to speed up Home Office immigration detention processes by starting while a sentence was still being served should be clear. Relationships between staff and detainees were generally very positive, and this was undoubtedly helped by the increase in staff numbers and the decline in the number of detainees. The living accommodation, however, still resembled a prison, though it was in good condition and kept very clean. Many detainees said they did not have enough to do to fill their time.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Brook House has faced some very serious problems over the past two years, with investigations and legal actions following the Panorama revelations. Nevertheless, it is to the credit of the leadership and staff that they have been determined to prevent any recurrence of poor behaviour or abuse, and to inject an appropriately respectful culture into the centre, supported by improved training, better supervision of staff, and positive relationships with the detainees.”

* Read the inspection report here

*  HM Inspectorate of Prisons  https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

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