A whistle-blower has described the “toxic culture” among staff at a detention centre that is now the focus of a public inquiry into abuse allegations.
Callum Tulley said he was so shocked by the treatment and behaviour of staff towards inmates at Brook House that he was ready to quit his job, but decided to report it to the BBC’s Panorama programme instead.
The inquiry is looking at events at the site between April and August 2017.
In September that year, Panorama broadcast hidden camera footage showing what appeared to be assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the site, which was then run by security company G4S.
Ten members of staff were dismissed or resigned after the programme.
No prosecutions were brought after a police investigation, but two former inmates successfully called for a full independent investigation.
Tulley was 18 when he started work at Brook House in January 2015.
Between March and September 2017, he was also employed by the Panorama programme as a specialist researcher, leaving his detention centre post in July.
Since 2019, Tulley has been working as a journalist for the BBC.
“It was obvious to me from the start that there was a toxic culture amongst staff with regard to use of force and their attitudes towards detainees,” he told the public inquiry on Monday.
He told of an “us and them” mentality among staff and that officers would “exchange anecdotes” about force being used, with language and behaviour passed off as “banter”.
“There was a language around detainees and the way in which they were restrained, which was sinister," Tulley said. “So it was more than banter.”
Officers who were regarded as too compassionate were “mocked”, he said, recalling how rumours were spread that an empathetic female custody officer had slept with detainees.
He recalled another incident where he found a group of staff, including managers, laughing at a “completely naked” detainee who had been “begging” to stay at the centre amid fears he was about to be deported.
Tulley said that although refusing to leave, the inmate was not being violent or physically threatening and was “clearly distressed and upset … he was completely humiliated … it was shocking to see.”
He said the “bleak and depressing situation” was “seared into my memory”.
“He was a defenceless detainee. I just could not understand why he was being treated in the way he was being treated.”
Tulley said he also saw an inmate being subjected to a “completely unnecessary” restraint.
He decided he wanted to leave a year after joining, saying he “couldn’t cope” and was “sick” of what he was seeing, and that he never felt he could complain to management about the abuse he witnessed.
But when writing his resignation letter he saw a Panorama programme on abuse by staff in a prison and decided to instead contact the BBC.
“I formed the view that the only way of holding the G4S, the Home Office and individuals to account for the abuse that was exacted upon detainees was to contact Panorama in the hope that they might send in one of their own undercover reporters and that they would make a similar film about Brook House,” he told the inquiry.
G4S has since stopped running Brook House and Tinsley House, which are both next to Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. Serco took over in May last year.
The inquiry resumes on Tuesday, with the first phase of hearings taking place until early December.