Today’s inquiry report into mistreatment at Brook House should mark a crucial turning point for the notorious immigration detention centre. The long-awaited findings, which identified 19 instances of mistreatment, including inappropriate use of force against 10 detainees and initially failing to help a detainee following a suicide attempt, found that the immigration removal centre was a place of “stress and distress”. A total of 33 recommendations, including a 28-day time limit for holding detainees, was issued to make the centre more humane.
However, in my role as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI), I have conducted my own inspections over the last two years and found that little has changed as a result. These inspections were requested by then home secretary, Sajid Javid, in 2018, and aimed to bring greater openness and scrutiny to the system. Unfortunately, flaws in the “adults at risk” process and the slow implementation of recommendations from prior reviews have hindered progress.
In my reports, similar to the findings of the Brook House inquiry, I found that the Home Office has been defensive and lacking in commitment to improvement. Senior leaders within immigration enforcement have pushed back against my concerns, focusing on unfounded claims of asylum seekers “gaming the system”. The Home Office has failed to prioritize the welfare of vulnerable detainees.
My inspections have resulted in 26 recommendations, but the Home Office believes their work is complete on just nine of these points. When I met with immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, to discuss my latest findings, the home secretary, Suella Braverman, quickly terminated the commission for an annual ICIBI inspection.
The timing of this decision is concerning, as the use of immigration detention is expected to increase due to the Illegal Migration Act. More vulnerable individuals will enter a severely broken system. It doesn’t have to be this way. As a former military police brigadier, I witnessed the detention of suspected insurgents and saw the professionalism and decency displayed by my soldiers. It is shocking that immigration detention staff at Brook House have been capable of such cruelty.
Senior management at immigration enforcement and the Home Office must enforce high standards for contractors and be more receptive to scrutiny. Strong leadership is needed to prioritize the welfare of those in detention and address the issues that led to the abuses at Brook House. The director general of immigration and enforcement (designate), Bas Javid, must ensure higher standards for contractors. Hopefully, the Brook House inquiry report will be a turning point for change.
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