Public inquiry launched into Brook House mistreatment claims
Inquiry will ensure "lessons are learnt to prevent these shocking events happening again"
Brook House imigration detention centre. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA
A public inquiry is to examine the alleged mistreatment of people held in the Brook House immigration detention centre, which was revealed in a BBC Panorama programme in 2017.
An investigation into the abuse claims by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has now been converted into a statutory inquiry, Priri Patel, the home secretary, announced yesterday. The change means that the inquiry will have powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.
Prisons ombudsman Sue McAllister has recused herself from the inquiry to allow Kate Eves, who led the original PPO probe, as chair “to ensure continuity with their investigation”, Patel said.
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Eves, the former head of the prison service’s violence reduction policy unit and assistant ombudsman at the PPO, “is an experienced and highly qualified investigator within custodial environments”, Patel said.
The inquiry will have a similar scope to its predecessor investigation, to investigate and report on the “decisions, actions and circumstances surrounding the mistreatment of detainees” broadcast in the BBC programme in September 2017. The programme showed staff abusing and assaulting detainees, and triggered the resignation of the centre’s then-director, Ben Saunders.
The inquiry will look at, among other things, whether the Home Office’s policies or practices, or those of its contractors, contributed to any mistreatment it finds; whether any clinical care issues contributed to any mistreatment; and the adequacy of the complaints and monitoring mechanisms provided by Home Office Immigration Enforcement and external bodies, including the prisons inspectorate.
The inquiry is expected to produce its final report within a year.
The announcement comes soon after an unannounced inspection of Brook House that HM inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said found “no evidence” that the abusive culture shown in the BBC documentary was still in existence at the centre.
However, Clarke said that there was “still much to do” to improve conditions at the centre, as the inspection revealed rising levels of self harm, detainees spending too long locked in their cells and too little attention being paid to equality and diversity issues.
Despite finding low levels of violence overall, the inspection found that instances of self-harm had “significantly” increased over the last three years, while 40% of detainees who were interviewed said they had felt suicidal at some point while they were at the centre.
In a statement to parliament, Patel said: “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.”
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