A UK immigration centre had a “toxic culture” where vulnerable detainees were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, an inquiry has found.
In a report published today, Chair Kate Eves said an “environment flourished” at Brook House immigration removal centre, in West Sussex, where “unacceptable treatment” became more likely.
Detainees at the G4S-run site near Gatwick airport lived in dirty, harmful prison-like conditions, suffered from mental health problems and were mistreated, including one incident where a man had pressure applied to his neck by a staff member when he was in distress.
The inquiry was launched in November 2019 following a BBC Panorama programme in September 2017 that aired harrowing undercover footage of the alleged abuse of detainees by detention officers.
The report, which investigated a five-month period between April and August 2017, found 19 incidents over a five-month period that were capable of amounting to mistreatment under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
This Article states that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Ms Eves said: “That I found this number of incidents took place within such a limited timeframe of five months is of significant concern.
“In my view these incidents were able to happen because of a combination of factors. Under the Home Office, and its contractor G4S, Brook House was not sufficiently decent, secure or caring for detained people or its staff at the time these events took place.
“An environment flourished in which unacceptable treatment became more likely.”
In one incident, detention custody officer Ioannis (Yan) Paschali placed his hands around the neck of a detainee and said: “You f*****g piece of s***t, because I’m going to put you to f*****g sleep.
Other incidents included, men were removed from their cells naked, or near-naked, dangerous restraint techniques used and derogatory comments from staff to a man who was recovering from medical treatment following a drug overdose.
Another detainee, who had been identified as extremely vulnerable to self-harm and suicide, was subjected to threatening language and denied access to shower, which prevented him from taking part in a cleansing ritual that was part of his religion.
The report was critical of the site itself, which was designed to the specification of a category B prison, including “tall razor wire fencing”, despite the detainees not being prisoners.
Witnesses giving evidence to the inquiry described it as “unfit for purpose” and it did not have the facilities to house detainees for “more than a few days”, despite many speeding a significantly longer time there.
This “prison-like” environment included men sharing cells with unscreened toilets, poor ventilation, and a lack of cleanliness.
The report said this led to “humiliating experiences” for detained people, in addition to the “constant noise” from the nearby airport.
There was overcrowding at the facility and detained people often lacked access to the internet with “unnecessary restrictions imposed on websites and, too often, computers were broken”.
Drug use was a “significant problem” at Brook House, in particular the psychoactive substance Spice. There was a “sense of defeat” from staff about how to treat the problem and on how to deal with detainees who had taken the drug.
The staff culture at Brook House was described as “toxic”, with evidence obtained by the inquiry revealing the use of “abusive, racist and derogatory language” used against detainees.