An unannounced inspection of the Brook House immigration detention centre has found “no evidence” of the abusive culture uncovered in the 2017 BBC Panorama documentary that led to multiple inquiries and legal action.
HM inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said it was “to the credit of the leadership and staff that they have been determined to prevent any recurrence of poor behaviour or abuse”, after the inspectorate found improvements to staff training, a better ratio of staff to detainees and better relationships between the two.
Clarke said the inspectorate had wanted to determine if its previous inspection had missed any indication of the problems uncovered in the Panorama programme. The undercover investigation, which was broadcast around 10 months after HMIP’s last inspection of the facility, showed staff abusing and assaulting detainees at Brook House. The centre’s then director, Ben Saunders, resigned after the broadcast.
But in a report published this week, Clarke said inspectors who visited the prison in May and June saw nothing to suggest the same abusive culture shown in the programme existed among staff now.
“On the contrary, our detainee survey and interviews found that most detainees were positive about the way they were treated by staff,” he wrote. The inspection also showed staff training had improved and staff had confidence in whistleblowing procedures. The number of people held in the centre had been reduced from nearly 400 at the time of the last inspection to around 240, meaning there was a far higher ratio of staff to detainees.
The centre was judged to be “reasonably good” in each of the inspectorate’s four core tests – safety, respect, activities and preparation for release and removal – the same rating as in the 2016 inspection. The report noted that there had been “distinct and positive developments, brought about by a determination to address the issues raised by the TV programme, to change and to improve”.
“Nevertheless, the managers of the centre are very aware that there is still much to do,” it added.
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.
It also said detainees spent detainees spent too long locked in their cells and that some aspects of security were “unnecessarily stringent”. “Many detainees told us they did not have enough to do to fill their time,” Clarke said.
Inspectors also noted that “insufficient attention” had been paid to equality and diversity issues, and that complaints were not being handled satisfactorily. Clarke said that while only one out of 95 complaints by detainees had been upheld, inspectors saw “clear examples” of there other complaints should have been upheld.
Although welfare provision was a “strength” of the centre, Clarke said he was concerned about some “unnecessary obstructions” that made it difficult to access information about immigration or legal advice, including access to some websites being blocked.
“Some daily newspaper sites were also blocked, for unfathomable reasons. This has been a longstanding issue and resolution is well overdue,” Clarke added.
He also said detainees' living quarters "still resembled a prison, but it was in good condition and kept very clean".
HMIP deployed more inspectors than on its previous visit to the facility and gave every detainee the chance to speak to an inspector privately. It also interviewed some detainees who had left the centre, and carried out a staff survey. “This methodology provides multiple opportunities to identify potential concerns,” Clarke said.
The report was published as it emerged that G4S had dropped its bid to continue running the centre in the next round of detention centre contracts.
In a statement on Tuesday, the company said it would not seek to renew its contract to run either Brook House or Tinsley House, the two detention centres near Gatwick. The Home Office opened bidding for the contract, which will begin in May 2020 and is worth up to £260m over 10 years, in August.
"G4S will not seek to renew the contract to run Gatwick's immigration removal centres, Brook House and Tinsley House," the company said in a statement.
"This will allow us to give greater focus to our custody and rehabilitation business, where we operate four of the highest-rated prisons in England and Wales."