Author: May Bulman
Use of force against people in one of the UK’s largest immigration detention centres has soared by more than 160 per cent in two years, a watchdog report has revealed.
Incidents of control and restraint against detainees in Brook House removal centre occurred 334 times last year, compared with 161 the previous year and 128 in 2015, according to an inspection report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).
Nearly half (45 per cent) of these incidents were to “maintain good order and discipline”, while 21 per cent were to facilitate someone’s removal from the country, the report notes. Less than a fifth were acts of self-defence and 14 per cent were to prevent self-harm.
Campaigners said the rise in use of force against detainees highlighted “endemic” problems in the UK’s immigration detention system, urging that “mass indefinite detention” inevitably leads to the “proliferating use of force on distressed people”.
It comes after Brook House, which is located near Gatwick airport and has the capacity to hold 508 men, came under fire last September when G4S guards in the centre were filmed allegedly “choking”, mocking and abusing detainees.
The IMB report states that 2017 had been a “tough year” for the centre, citing a “spike” in violence and a “dramatic increase in the use of force in 2017, more than double the previous year”.
Inspectors also warn of “frequent” incidents of self-harm among detainees, with 161 reported in 2017, 18 of which required hospital attention. There was an average of 42 care assessments opened each month for people believed to be likely to harm themselves.
The report reveals that some people held in the centre “have been tortured or witnessed atrocities” – suggesting that the Home Office is failing to comply with the law following a High Court case last year, which ruled that torture victims should not be placed in detention.
“The act of being detained, separation from friends and family, loss of control over one’s future, poor communication or delays in Home Office decisions can exacerbate the situation. Self-harming and the threat of self-harm are frequent,” it states.
Figures in the report show that during 2017, there were cases of “extremely vulnerable detainees” classified by medical professionals as being “level 3” – meaning they are at risk and that a period of detention would be likely to cause harm.
While these individuals were either transferred to secure mental health units or eventually released, inspectors noted that it had “not always been a smooth process” and that mentally ill detainees were at times placed in segregation despite this “not being an appropriate location for detainees with mental health problems”.
The findings will fuel concerns raised last year that the Home Office has systematically ignored independent medical advice not to detain mentally ill people as part of their bid to crack down on immigration.
Jerome Phelps, director of Detention Action, told The Independent the IMB Brook House report highlighted some of the “endemic” problems within the UK’s immigration detention system.
He continued: “It demonstrates once again what the mass indefinite detention of migrants means in practice: the proliferating use of force on distressed people, many with serious mental and physical health problems.
“The new home secretary should take his appointment as an opportunity to rectify the callous approach to immigration that has led the UK to have the largest detention estate in western Europe. He should end the detention of vulnerable people immediately and introduce a 28-day time limit for all cases.”
Celia Clarke, director of Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), a charity that provides legal advice to those in detention, said: “It is one thing to focus on ‘improvements’ and ‘procedures’ to tackle violence and challenging behaviour but, as the report itself highlights, ‘a major difficulty is that (detainees) have no idea when, or if, they will be released or removed, and this uncertainty can be very unsettling’.
“The system of detention itself and its lack of safeguards means that it’s a potential powder keg for anyone caught up in it. The frustration of being locked up and not knowing what you can do about it takes away all your power and it’s easy to see why that alone would not result in ‘challenging behaviour’.
“However, what we saw in the Panorama footage was violence carried out by those in power of which, shockingly, no one seemed aware. In the light of the current attention to the ‘hostile environment’, an end to immigration detention and deployment of existing, less damaging alternatives is long overdue.”
Interim director at Brook House immigration removal centre, Lee Hanford, said: “Our first priority is to provide a safe and secure environment for the men in our care and we are resolutely focused on recruiting and retaining dedicated detention custody officers to support this.
“We are well underway to meeting our target of 226 permanent officers and are drawing on resources from across G4S custody and detention services to ensure that we maintain a full contingent of staff at Brook House.
“We will work closely with the Home Office to incorporate the recommendations made by the monitors.”
A Home Office spokesperson highlighted that the IMB also highlighted the efforts of managers and staff who do their best to protect individuals and provide a safe environment at Brook House.
They added: “G4S implemented a detailed action plan which includes the introduction of body worn cameras, new processes on use of force and incident reporting and a weekly multi-agency Adults at Risk meeting.