Suella Braverman ceased the yearly inspections of immigration detention facilities like Brook House last year, shortly after government ministers were directly alerted about the lack of protection for vulnerable individuals, including torture victims, the immigration watchdog has revealed.
The disclosure was made by David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI), The Guardian reported.
Neal’s annual review of “adults at risk” held in removal centres was halted by the Home Secretary in September. This decision came shortly after Neal had specifically cautioned immigration minister Robert Jenrick that safeguards needed to be implemented promptly for “vulnerable detainees” and expressed concerns about the slow progress of necessary changes.
On Tuesday (19), a significant inquiry revealed mistreatment of individuals detained at Brook House immigration removal centre in 2017, describing the conditions as “prison-like.”
Staff at the centre were found to have engaged in dehumanising and racist behaviour, often resorting to the use of force.
The inquiry highlighted that those individuals scheduled for removal from the UK experienced degrading treatment, including forced detention while naked and the application of dangerous restraint techniques, resulting in unnecessary pain.
Furthermore, the inquiry noted the occurrence of homophobic comments aimed at one detainee at the centre near Gatwick airport.
In response to these findings, Neal expressed his concerns. In a report submitted to the home secretary in September 2022, Neal called for a meeting with immigration minister Robert Jenrick to discuss the lack of progress in improving immigration detention conditions.
He emphasised the necessity for concerted efforts to enhance protections for vulnerable detainees, stressing on quick action.
However, following his discussion with minister Jenrick, Neal received notification from the home secretary that she was discontinuing the annual ICIBI inspection initiated by her predecessor.
In 2018, the then-home secretary, Sajid Javid, requested the ICIBI to provide an annual report on the Home Office’s efforts to protect vulnerable individuals in detention.
Neal, the ICIBI, conducted two inspections and found persistent flaws in the system, with recommendations being implemented at an exceptionally slow pace.
Neal’s assessments further raised concerns about the Home Office’s commitment to addressing these challenges.
He noted that the department’s responses to his reports were marked by defensiveness and excuses rather than a genuine commitment to improvement and positive change.
Drawing on his experience as a brigadier in the Royal Military Police, Neal suggested that valuable lessons could be gleaned from the military’s approaches to detention and safeguarding.
Despite the intense pressure and challenges faced, Neal, who has spent years overseeing military detentions said he never witnessed his soldiers behaving in anything other than a decent, respectful, and professional manner toward detainees.
Therefore, he expressed shock at the findings of the Brook House inquiry, which revealed acts of cruelty by immigration detention staff.
Neal’s three-year term as the ICIBI is set to conclude in March, with no renewal from the Home Office.
Interestingly, his two predecessors were granted a second term.
OpenDemocracy, media platform, reported on Monday (18) that Home Office officials criticised Neal for being excessively critical. His report, published in July 2022, described the department’s treatment of individuals at its Kent facilities as “unacceptable.”
The 711-page Brook House inquiry report published on Tuesday (19)and released after over three years of investigation, was initiated by former home secretary Priti Patel following the BBC’s Panorama programme’s airing of undercover footage depicting violence and abuse against vulnerable detainees at the centre in 2017.
A report by Kate Eves, the inquiry chair has uncovered 19 instances where “credible evidence” suggested actions or omissions amounting to potential mistreatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
The Brook House immigration removal centre, located near Gatwick airport, was found to be overcrowded, unclean, and noisy due to aircraft noise. Detainees had limited activities available to them, and there was extensive use of the “zombie drug” known as spice, with custody officers implicated in its introduction into the facility.
Eves emphasised that Brook House failed in providing a sufficiently decent, secure, or caring environment for both detainees and staff during the events under scrutiny.
She asserted that the centre was entirely unsuitable for detaining individuals for anything beyond short periods.
The inquiry led to 33 recommendations, which, if implemented, aim to prevent future incidents like those at Brook House, intended to create a more humane, compassionate, and professional detention environment.
In response to Neal’s remarks, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticised Braverman and Rishi Sunak for what she deemed an evasion of proper scrutiny concerning the asylum and immigration system.
Cooper expressed her view that preventing the independent borders inspector from reviewing detention centres and subsequently terminating Neal’s contract after he produced critical reports indicated a government unwilling to be held accountable or maintain adequate standards.
She suggested that these actions were an attempt to conceal the chaos created within the asylum system.