Time limit of 28 days recommended at 'toxic' immigration removal centres in UK

Racism and abuse were commons at the centre, an inquiry has found

Protesters chant and hold placards against the UK deportation flights to Rwanda outside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre in June. Getty Images
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A time limit of 28 days should be imposed for people held in UK immigration removal centres, an inquiry has recommended.

The findings come after an investigation into the Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick Airport, which found detainees were held in “prison-like” conditions and there was a “toxic” culture among staff.

An inquiry looked at events at the site between April and August 2017, investigating the mistreatment of people who were detained began after undercover footage was broadcast as part of a BBC investigation.

The investigation heard from whistleblower Owen Syred, who said there was a culture of racism among staff at the centre. Such racism included Facebook posts showing membership of far-right groups, such as Britain First.

Another whistleblower, Callum Tulley, said he was so shocked by the treatment and behaviour of staff towards migrants at Brook House that he was ready to quit his job, but decided to report it to the BBC’s Panorama programme instead.

The findings of the inquiry have now been released and note that in 2017 the average stay at the centre was 44 days, but five people had been there for between one and two years.

Among the 33 recommendations put forward by inquiry chairwoman Kate Eves was that the government should introduce a time limit of 28 days maximum for a person to be held at an immigration removal centre.

She described the environment at Brook House as “harsh” and “prison-like”, saying it was “entirely unsuitable for detaining people for anything other than a short period of time”.

It was “common” for staff to use “racist and derogatory language” when speaking about detainees and “unacceptable, often abusive behaviour was dismissed as banter”, Ms Eves said.

Among the 19 incidents of mistreatment which involved 16 men, the report cited a “terrifying” moment where a detention custody officer put his hands around a detainee's neck and threatened to kill him, which was shown in the Panorama programme.

Ms Eves referred to a Home Office manager who had told the inquiry that if someone spent more than 24 hours at Brook House “you're going to develop mental health issues”, adding “it's not a nice place to be”.

The inquiry was launched in 2019, two years after the footage was broadcast, which resulted in ten members of staff being dismissed or resigning.

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

G4S has since stopped running Brook House, with outsourcing giant Serco having taken over.

Ms Eves has recommended that “new comprehensive and mandatory rules for how force is used in IRCs is urgently needed”.

She called on the Home Office to pay “more than mere lip service” to her findings, noting a “dark thread” running throughout her report of a failure to act on previous recommendations.

She has requested that the Government responds to her recommendations within six months.

Brook House became a key centre for the removal of migrants who arrived in record numbers in 2020 in small boats from northern Europe.

Cases of self-harm at the centre surged towards the end of 2020 as the British government started an intensive programme of flights out of the country before the rules on removing migrants changed when the UK exited the EU.

Updated: September 20, 2023, 5:00 AM