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The release of the Brook House Inquiry report is a hugely significant moment. It is the first public inquiry into the mistreatment of people detained in the UK. This is despite the fact that, since the first immigration detention centre opened in 1970, immigration detention has been marred by controversy. The revelations of abuse at Brook House IRC, in the period April – August 2017, through the undercover reporting of Callum Tulley, are not the first of their kind. Amongst a litany of abuse, previous undercover reports include abuse and racism at Oakington Reception Centre in 2005 and sexual abuse was uncovered at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in 2013. And, there have been numerous cases in which the courts have found mistreatment amounting to a breach of Article 3 of the European Court of Human Rights – the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Yet, change has not happened.

This is what led the lawyers who represented one of the victims of abuse at the time of Tulley’s undercover reporting to argue that a wider inquiry was needed to prevent future wrongdoing. They successfully argued that the state has a duty, under the Investigative Duty of Human Rights Article 3, to identify what led to mistreatment and why so that this does not happen again.

The Inquiry

Over 46 days, the Brook House Inquiry received and heard evidence from a wide range of parties, including from people who were detained in Brook House in the period April-August 2017, independent monitoring bodies, NGOs and independent experts (Dr Mary Bosworth on institutional culture, Dr Jake Hard on medical practice and Mr Jonathan Collier on use of force within custodial settings).

How was it possible that such extensive abuse had been able to occur? Abuse to the extent that, as described in one witness statement:

“I find it difficult to recall the exact days in which I self-harmed and all the specific triggers for making me want to self-harm but I am told that the records do suggest that they often occurred around the same times as abuse by guards. I can confirm that this abuse did make me want to self-harm more than usual.”

What was revealed was that abuse had not just occurred but had thrived due to a system that underpinned and necessitated it. Clear links were found between systemic failures of safeguards and abuse; evidence of an institutional culture of disbelief, indifference and racism; and a system which prioritised enforcement and removal at all costs.

Not only this but there was evidence that lessons had not been learnt since these events took place. An IMB report showed mistreatment during an intensive programme of charter flights in 2020 and staff members, who still work at Brook House, failed to show adequate reflection and empathy on what had happened.

Chair Statement

In a live statement this week, the Chair for the Brook House Inquiry Report, Kate Eves, unequivocally stated that these events cannot be repeated. She rejected statements from the Home Office and G4S that incidents were the result of a small minority of people and re-asserted that they were the result of a toxic culture that led to de-sensitisation of staff, systemic and overt racism and dangerous use of force. This was able to flourish in an environment where safeguards systematically failed, and people were detained indefinitely in an unsuitable prison-like environment. She found 19 incidents, in the short period of five months, where there was credible evidence of acts or omissions that were capable of amounting to mistreatment contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR.

The Inquiry Report has now been published and includes 33 recommendations. These include the recommendation for a time limit of 28-days to be introduced (recommendation 7), a review of safeguards (recommendation 9), an urgent review into the use of force on detained people with mental health (recommendation 16), effective communication on medical information (recommendation 21), development of a healthy culture amongst staff (recommendation 27), improving processes and response to whistleblowing (recommendation 31).

What's next?

The incidents that unfolded at Brook House Inquiry are not isolated. They have happened before and we are already seeing them happen again. Much of the evidence – on understaffing, failures in the use of safeguards, self-harm and the use of segregation – continue across the detention estate today.

The Brook House Inquiry Report has come at a critical juncture to remedy the current crisis unfurling in immigration detention and the governments commitment to expand detention. Just last week it was announced that further provisions of the Illegal Migration Act relating to detention will come into force on 28th September this year. These provisions permit detention for a period that the Home Office considers “reasonable necessary” in order to make a decision on an individuals removal or to actually remove someone.

Our Policy and Communication Manager, Gee Manoharan, said:

"The Brook House Inquiry is a watershed moment that cannot be underestimated. It's a spotlight on the dark corners of our immigration detention system. What makes it truly significant is that it doesn't stop at exposing the problems. It demands action and change. It's a call for a future where detention is no longer synonymous with harm and where human rights are not optional but fundamental. It's a call that needs to be heeded, not just by the government but by all of us who believe in justice and compassion!"

The Brook House Inquiry Report makes certain that, prioritising removal above human rights, empathy and care will result in abuse, violence and destruction to people’s lives.

Lessons must be learnt and they must be acted on quickly.


Contact details:

Gee Manoharan

Policy and Communication Manager

Email address: gee.manoharan@aviddetention.org.uk

For further information about this press release and about the work of AVID, please contact Gee Manoharan on gee.manoharan@aviddetention.org.uk

For general enquiries about AVID, please contact us at enquiries@aviddetentiion.org.uk

About AVID:

We are a national charity that supports volunteer visitors to people in immigration detention wherever they are held. We have member groups that visit every detention centre in the UK and some prisons. Our member also includes the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group (one of the core participant of the Brook House Inquiry).

Our mission is to join with and support communities to reduce the suffering of people in immigration detention and work towards a future without detention. We achieve this by facilitating a network which provides solidarity, guidance and advocacy to visitor groups across the UK, whilst also building connections with the wider movement. Together we strive for a more just and compassionate society that upholds the dignity and human rights of all people.

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