Public inquiry launched into abuse at Brook House immigration detention centre
Home Office performs U-turn after initially challenging judge's call for probe
A public inquiry has been launched into allegations of abuse at the Brook House immigration detention centre.
Witnesses may be compelled to give evidence on claims that inmates were assaulted, humiliated and verbally abused by officers at the G4S-run centre.
In August, a High Court judge ruled that a public inquiry was necessary to ensure witnesses gave evidence on the alleged mistreatment.
The Home Office initially attempted to challenge the ruling, but Priti Patel announced that an investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman would be converted into a statutory inquiry on Tuesday.
The home secretary said it would investigate evidence of mistreatment broadcast by BBC Panorama in September 2017.
“The government takes any allegation of mistreatment, and the welfare of immigration detainees, very seriously, and I want to establish the facts of what took place at Brook House and ensure that lessons are learnt to prevent these shocking events happening again,” Ms Patel said.
“From today, the inquiry will have statutory powers to compel witnesses and establish the truth of what took place at Brook House.”
Kate Eves, a specialist custody investigator who has overseen inquiries in the UK and US, is to chair the inquiry.
Its purpose is to examine the treatment of detainees and whether either Home Office or G4S management had “caused or contributed to any identified mistreatment”.
The probe will also look at whether monitoring mechanisms were sufficiently robust.
Brook House, near Gatwick Airport, is used to hold failed asylum seekers, foreign criminals and other foreign national citizens faced with deportation from the UK.
Samim Bigzad, an Afghan asylum seeker who was held there in 2017, described it as a “dangerous place”.
“I saw some people who wanted to kill themselves,” he told The Independent, describing people frequently being restrained by guards.
Mr Bigzad 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.”
After BBC Panorama broadcast undercover footage of abuse, two other former detainees identified as MA and BB argued a full independent investigation into “systemic and institutional failures” was needed “to ensure fact-finding, accountability and lesson-learning”.
Fourteen members of G4S staff were dismissed or resigned in the wake of the broadcast and the Home Office asked the prisons and probation ombudsman to carry out an investigation.
But there were concerns this was being conducted behind closed doors, with G4S officers not being made to give evidence if they did not want to.
In July the National Audit Office found G4S made £14.3m in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018.
G4S announced in September it was pulling out of running immigration detention centres and would not be bid to renew its contracts, despite the Home Office extending its contract last year.
During the latest visit to Brook House, the prisons watchdog found there was “no culture of abuse” among current staff at Brook House, but said a raft of improvements needed to be made.