August 14, 2022

Brook House Inquiry: Phase 1 Hearings Reviewed – Appin Mackay-Champion

6 January 2022 by Guest Contributor

‘A bleak, poorly staffed, highly charged and toxic environment.’ (Callum Tulley)

The Brook House inquiry has recently concluded its first phase of hearings which took place between November 23 and December 10, 2021 at the International Dispute Resolution Centre (IDRC). Brook House is an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) beside Gatwick Airport, originally managed by the private security company G4S. The inquiry was set up to investigate the actions and circumstances surrounding the ‘mistreatment’ of male detainees at Brook House between April 1 to August 31 2017, and specifically, examining whether the treatment experienced was contrary to Article 3 ECHR (the right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment). This followed the damning footage filmed by an undercover reporter in Brook House during the ‘relevant period’, and broadcast on the BBC Panorama Programme ‘Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets’ which aired on September 4, 2017. 

Background

Callum Tulley was employed by Brook House from January 2015 as a detention custody officer. In this role he witnessed the disturbing culture and conduct of employees there and raised these concerns by email to the BBC Panorama team in January 2016. After a 14 – month period providing intelligence and completing specialist training, Tulley began to secretly film 109 hours of footage over a three-month period – the contents of which exposed the degrading treatment of detainees by employees. 

The BBC Panorama exposé prompted several investigations. As previously discussed on this blog, in MA, BB v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWHC 1523, two former detainees (known as MA and BB) challenged the limited scope of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s (PPO) investigation into Brook House by bringing a judicial review. Mrs Justice May, supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, declared that the investigation did, indeed, fail to meet the requirements of an investigation compliant with Article 3 ECHR. There was found to be

a real risk amounting to an overwhelming probability that former G4S staff will not attend voluntarily to give evidence.

 She held that the PPO required statutory powers to compel witnesses and demand evidence (Section 35 Inquiries Act 2005) and furthermore, that the inquiry should bear the legal expenses for any individuals designated core participant status. On 5th November 2019 the Secretary of State, under Section 15 of the Inquiries Act 2005, converted the PPO’s special investigation into an independent statutory inquiry to be chaired by Kate Eves.

The Inquiry’s Aims 

The operative phrase guiding the inquiry is extracted from Article 3 ECHR, however the protection against such abuse of human rights has been entrenched in English law since the Bill of Rights 1689 when, for the first time, the infliction of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ was prohibited by the law. The behaviour exposed in the BBC footage is repugnant to basic principles of humanity: we see the destruction of the dignity of the victims and the corrosive effect of the institution’s culture on the integrity of the employees. This conduct has ‘no place in a decent and human immigration detention system’, the Chair implores in the Inquiry’s opening statement on April 21, 2020, before setting out a three-stage framework for the Inquiry: 

  1. To establish the extent of mistreatment at the time of recording 
  2. To scrutinise the methods, policy, practices and management arrangements (both of the Home Office and its contractors at Brook House) which caused or contributed to the identified mistreatment
  3. To make recommendations of changes to prevent a recurrence of any identified mistreatment

(Here are the full Terms of Reference

A schedule of incidents created by counsel, incorporating around 50 key incidents, guides the focus of the hearings. The evidence is comprised of broadcast and unbroadcast BBC footage, witness statements, examinations, expert evidence and submissions from core participants, of which there are 24 in total. Core participants, under Rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules 2006, include individuals (former detainees, employees and experts), NGOs (Medical Justice and Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group) and other organisations (the BBC, the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB), the Home Office (HO), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), G4S Care and Justice (UK) Limited, G4S Health Services (UK) Limited and Practice Plus Group (PPG). Core participants have privileged access to disclosure of evidence, the ability to make opening and closing statements and to recommend lines of questioning by Counsel. Jo Moore of 1COR is one of a team of counsel to the Inquiry, led by Brian Altman QC.  

Key Themes arising from Phase 1 Hearings 

Prison-like environment: 

Brook House was built to the security specifications of a category B prison with an operational capacity of 508 people. As Mr Tulley testifies, 

In my eyes, it is a prison. But I suppose G4S were anxious to perhaps have us think that it wasn’t. [D.5, p.39]

Employees are told to refer to the cells as ‘rooms’, however with no handle inside the door, no openable window and a toilet in the room 

they were so obviously cells that people referred to them as cells. [D.5, p.39]

Issues have arisen because the Home Office does not insist on segregation between time-served foreign national offenders (TSFNOs) awaiting deportation (c.35% of BH detainees) and those seeking asylum with no criminal record. Detainees must swiftly acclimatize to cope in custody with ex-offenders who are often vulnerable to the risk of self-harm – of which there were 60 instances during the relevant period. Furthermore, Mr Tulley asserts in the documentary that ‘there is a spice epidemic in BH right now.’ This synthetic cannabinoid and other drugs are causing on average around 38 critical incidents per month, yet there has been no thorough investigation into their source, as Mr Tulley states 

[I] never really found out. It was something I tried to sort of explore for Panorama…but I could never really get anything out of anyone. [D.7, p.37] 

Brook House is ‘over-crowded and inadequately staffed which exacerbates these issues. The four residential wings hold up to 140 detainees, each with only two detention custody officers (DCOs) per wing. This workload creates an atmosphere of frustration, compromising the effectiveness of immediate response, prevention intervention and the capacity to deliver adequate mental and physical healthcare. As Mr Altman observes, there were 13 days during the relevant period on which the minimum DCO staffing was not met. 

Dehumanising treatment by employees: 

Mr Tulley attests to an ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture in Brook House where a significant minority of staff are not only apathetic to distressed detainees but actively aggressive, both physically and verbally. Mr Altman examines the three abusive incidents which triggered Mr Tulley to first contact the BBC:   

  1. Mr Tulley was told about an occasion where, on a night shift, staff members stood outside the cell of a detainee under constant supervision on E-wing wearing George Michael masks and dancing to shit him up. [D.5, p.63]
  2. Mr Tulley entered a solitary confinement block to find a detainee completely naked surrounded by staff members laughing at him and making comments about his body.’ [D.5, p.71]
  3. Mr Tulley witnessed the unnecessary use of force on a man who merely refused to go to his room 

The Panorama documentary exposed several more shocking incidents, many involving the misuse of force. According to the Detention Services Operating Standards Manual, force is to be used as a last resort and if used, staff must fill in a force review form. However, many of these review forms are missing and moreover, Mr Tulley admitted that there is a lack of formal training in areas such as control and restraint. Perhaps the most shocking incident in the documentary was when a DCO named Yan Paschal exerts excessive force on the throat of a suicidal detainee (ciphered D1527) and whispers Don’t fucking move, you fucking piece of shit, adding I’m going to put you to fucking sleep.’ Mr Paschal later approached Mr Tulley and said Listen, that wasn’t a use of force’ [D.7, p.110], thereby confirming that there would be no use of force report. This was a blatant cover-up of an abuse of force, which rather than being condemned was instead respected: when Mr Tulley asked how to deal with a suicidal patient another DCO replies with ‘What Yan did. [D.7, p.142] In another incident exposed in the documentary, an employee tells the DCOs to refer to a detainee as a ‘N – word’ and instructs them to ‘fuck him up in the corner out of view of cameras – and as Tulley recollects, 

…this wasn’t just a DCO, it was the restraint trainer at the detention centre. [D.8, p.52]

This racism and violence is systemic in Brook House, which Tulley confirms: 

there was a language around detainees and the way in which they were restrained which was sinister. [D.5, 95] 

Toxic culture: 

The culture fostered at Brook House engenders disdain for whistle blowers and discourages staff from issuing complaints internally or externally. The posters of GS4’s whistleblowing campaign ‘Speak Out’ were scrawled with the words ‘snitches’ ‘grass and ‘don’t be a rat.’ [D.5, p.79] As long as staff acquiesce in this culture, detainees will continue to deteriorate in the detention environment. Mr Tulley encapsulates this ethos:   

the most egregious act of cruelty and mistreatment of a detainee I can remember was performed by two DCMs…if the people above you are treating people so abhorrently, then you’re not going to have any confidence in raising complaints. [D.5, p.113] 

Evidently, the Home Office did not have people in place to hold to account G4S’s level of performance and adequately monitor staff management or the quality of life of those detained. As a result, impunity continued to be enjoyed by staff despite the injurious consequences of their actions. 

The Bigger Picture 

Whilst the Brook House inquiry is not immediately concerned with the wider questions of immigration detention, Mrs Harrison raises a critical point in her opening address:  

…it is important to recognise that we start off here with an extraordinary draconian power: that of executive administrative detention, normally only used in times of war or public emergency, but here used on a mundane and regular basis, with individuals held for indeterminate periods without charge or trial. [D.3, p.3-4]

Immigration Removal Centres like Brook House were initially intended as short-term holding centres, for no more than 72 hours. Yet, the slowness of procedure by the Home Office has caused people to be cruelly held in these centres for months and years. Indeterminacy is the key issue here: a former detainee in the documentary elucidates,

detention centres are worse than prisons because you never know how long you will be. It’s a waiting game.

Another detainee in the documentary moved to the UK when he was six, but his permission to stay in the UK was revoked when he was convicted of burglary and drug offences: 

Yes I went to prison. Yes. I paid my time. Yes, I have made mistakes. But this, this is not a fucking prison, bruv. You’re only supposed to be here, yeah, if you’re getting moved imminently. One month, maybe, two months. But not here after fucking two years. I’m still here

Detainees with pre-existing trauma or mental illness will regress further in the detention environment because of the anguish caused by a lack of control over one’s life. If this ‘draconian power’ is to continue as a means for the UK to control immigration then, at the very least, the public expects detention centres to offer residence which is safe, efficient and respects human rights. 

What’s next? 

Phase 2 of the hearings are to begin on February 22, 2022 and will likely last for up to six weeks. This phase will comprise evidence from former detainees, former and current G4S and Home Office staff and three experts who have been commissioned to investigate the culture, healthcare and use of force at Brook House. It is for the chair to decide whether the treatment experienced was contrary to Article 3 ECHR and therefore amounted to inhumane or degrading treatment. The Inquiry endeavours to provide a final report to the Home Secretary within 12 months. However, for the inquiry to be altogether effective, it must look further than the abusive acts of a few individuals in the ‘relevant period’ to the institutionalised culture which corrupted them. In Mr Tulley’s words, 

that’s the hardest stuff, because those officers have gotten away with it and it seems G4S and the Home Office are only being held accountable for the months of April to August, and I hope that’s not going to be the case, because the abuse was not exclusive to those months.’ [D.6, p.51-2] 

Appendix:

A Chronology of Phase 1 hearings 

Days 1-2: Chair opening statement; Mr Altman opening statement 

Day 3: Opening statements from legal representatives of core participants including Medical Justice, Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, former employee Reverend Nathan Ward and former detainees ciphered as D1527, D1851, D1914, D2077, D1538, D687, D390, D801, D2158, D1275, D1713 and D1473

Day 4: Opening statements from legal representatives of core participants including former detainees D1713 and D1473, former employee Mr Owen Syred, the BBC, the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB), the Home Office (HO), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), G4S Care and Justice (UK) Limited and G4S Health Services (UK) Limited and Practice Plus Group (PPG) 

Days 5-8: Examination of Mr Callum Tulley by Mr Altman 

Days 9-10: Examination of witnesses D1618, D1851 and D668 by Mr Altman 

Day 11: Examination of Mr Owen Syred by Ms Townshend and Reverend Nathan James Ward by Ms Simcock

Day 12: Examination of Ms Victoria Sile Reynolds by Ms Simock; Dr Dominic Edward Aitken and Mr Anton Bole by Ms Moore; Mr Jamie Trevor Macpherson by Ms Townshend

Day 13: Examination of Ms Anna Marie Pincus by Mr Livingston; Reading in evidence on behalf of detainees D87, D2054, D2953, D1747

Day 14: Examination of Mr James Wilson by Mr Livingston; Reading in evidence on behalf of detainees D2033, D1713, D1234; Closing remarks by Chair 

Transcripts of each day

Appin Mackay-Champion is a GDL student at The City Law School.

Disclaimer: whilst Amy Mannion and Jonathan Metzer of 1 Crown Office Row are instructed by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Jo Moore and Alice Kuzmenko are instructed as part of the Counsel to the Inquiry team, none of them were involved in the writing or editing of this post.