Toxic culture and racism exposed at UK immigration removal centre

Owen Syred described rampant racism and an 'us and them' culture between staff and detainees

A general view of D Wing on the official opening of Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, next to Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.   (Photo by Gareth Fuller - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

A whistleblower has described the toxic culture and racism among staff at a UK immigration detention centre, which forced him to unravel its alleged failings.

Owen Syred, who worked at the centre for more than a decade, told a public inquiry he had raised concerns about racism, violence, and the lack of skills to deal with vulnerable people.

The inquiry is looking at events at the site between April and August 2017, investigating the mistreatment of people who were detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), near Gatwick Airport.

In September that year, Panorama broadcast undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the site, which was then operated by the G4S private security firm.

Mr Syred said there was an “us and them” culture between staff and detainees, and rampant racism that included Facebook posts showing membership of far-right groups, such as Britain First.

“Some staff got conditioned, almost like radicalised into stereotyping nationalities."

Mr Syred gave examples of racism at Brook House and said that when he reported incidences he was accused of being a grass.

“I do believe there were certain staff radicalised into being racist."

He said that after eating lunch with some detainees, he had been asked: “Why are you sitting with these animals?”

Another officer, Mr Syred testified, said: “I bloody hate this lot. No wonder I’m racist.”

G4S has since stopped running Brook House as well as Tinsley House, which is also next to Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.

Outsourcing giant Serco took over in May last year.

Ten members of staff were dismissed or resigned after the original programme.

No prosecutions were brought after a police investigation, but two former detainees successfully argued a full independent investigation was needed.

Another whistleblower, Callum Tulley, told the inquiry that 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 continues.

Updated: December 8th 2021, 2:16 PM