Brook House: Immigration removal centre investigation must be able to compel witnesses, court rules
‘There is a real risk amounting to an overwhelming probability that former G4S staff will not attend voluntarily to give evidence’
A Home Office investigation into alleged “systemic and institutional failures” at a scandal-hit immigration detention centre must have the power to compel witnesses to appear, the High Court has ruled.
Two former detainees at Brook House immigration removal centre, identified only as MA and BB, argued that a full independent investigation was needed “to ensure fact-finding, accountability and lesson-learning”.
Their case follows a BBC Panorama programme in September 2017 that featured undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the G4S-run centre near Gatwick Airport.
At least six members of staff were dismissed by the private security firm following the broadcast.
The Home Office asked the prisons and probation ombudsman (PPO) to investigate.
Giving judgment in London, Ms Justice May found that there was “a real risk amounting to an overwhelming probability that former G4S staff will not attend voluntarily to give evidence”.
She ruled that “the PPO must have a power to compel witness attendance”.
The “egregious nature of the breaches”, which she said were “repeated events, in front of others, where the perpetrators were managers and trainers, as well as ordinary officers”, required the PPO to have such powers, she said.
Ms Justice May also ruled that MA and BB were entitled to publicly-funded lawyers.
“When dignity and humanity has been stripped, one purpose of an effective investigation must be to restore what has been taken away through identifying and confronting those responsible, so far as it is possible,” she said. “How is that to be done in any meaningful way here unless MA and BB, non-lawyers where English is not their first language, are enabled through representation to meet their (alleged) abusers on equal terms?”
In a statement after the ruling, BB said: “This case has forced me to relive some of the most painful times in my life, and today’s judgment is a huge relief. The abuse shown on Panorama wasn’t even half of what really went on. It was every day and we were trapped in there, never knowing when it would end or when we would be released.
“I was worried that the voices of the victims would never be heard. I was worried the truth would never come out.”
His solicitor, Joanna Thomson, added: “The victims at Brook House suffered dreadful, inhuman and degrading treatment. They have also suffered the injustice of the government’s failure to hold an effective inquiry.
“This important judgment should now lead to an investigation that will uncover the truth so that there are no further abuse scandals in the UK’s immigration removal centres.”
Lewis Kett, MA’s solicitor, said: “The brutality of the abuse our client suffered, and the openness in which it was not only carried out but boasted about, has appalled everyone who has seen the footage. Today’s judgment ensures that those officers can be held to account for their actions and that the PPO will be better equipped to get to the heart of why this happened and how to ensure it is never repeated.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We will consider this ruling carefully. It would be inappropriate to comment further while legal proceedings are ongoing.”