Sussex

Brook House immigration centre's 'laddish' staff culture

Exterior of Brook House immigration centre Image copyright G4S
Image caption Brook House holds up to 508 adult male asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and foreign national offenders

Frontline staff at an immigration removal centre acted in a "draconian" way and indulged in "laddish behaviour", a report has found.

A damning review into Brook House at Gatwick Airport, said the officers exerted a "malign" influence at the facility, which is run by G4S.

The report by Kate Lampard for Verita stated violence at the centre was not properly dealt with or investigated.

G4S said "substantial progress" had been made over the past 12 months.

The security company commissioned the review after an undercover reporter for BBC Panorama filmed immigration detainees being verbally and physically abused.

Since the programme was broadcast in September 2017 the report said 15 of the 21 staff allegedly involved in the incidents have either left G4S, resigned or been sacked.

Researchers supported by consultants Verita - which visited Brook House over a five-month period - acknowledged the behaviour of some of the men held there was "challenging" because they were "highly resistant" to removal.

A third of around 300 men currently detained are foreign national offenders facing deportation after completing prison sentences.

The others include those who have overstayed their visas, and asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Staff at the facility, near Gatwick, were filmed by an undercover reporter

Some of the senior managers were criticised for having an "authoritarian" approach and inspectors found "a lack of visible and capable management and a sense among staff that managers were unapproachable, unsupportive and sometimes draconian".

The report stated there had been "dysfunctional relationships and instability" among them since G4S was awarded the contract to run Brook House in 2009, while the use of force by staff was a "cause for concern".

"Stronger personalities", it stated, could gain undue influence and behaved in "inappropriate ways without being challenged".

It concluded: "We are concerned that the absence of strong and visible management arrangements, ensuring the modelling and reinforcement of the behaviours expected of staff; the lack of staff and the inexperience of many; and the assertive laddish culture among some {officers and managers} heightens the risk of inappropriate behaviour by staff."

Other problems identified in the report include:

  • Demanding workloads
  • High staff turnover
  • Ineffective staff appraisal and development processes
  • Inadequate education and activities
  • Failure to follow correct care and welfare procedures
  • Weaknesses in drug search procedures

The report's authors said they didn't witness staff behaving inappropriately and there were no reports of widespread or significant problems with their behaviour, but some detainees said staff interactions were "dehumanising" and health-care workers were "uncaring and arrogant".

The review also detailed a serious disturbance in November 2017 when officers feared they'd "lost control" of the centre after a "mass refusal" by detainees to be locked up at lunchtime.

"At the insistence of the Home Office, one of them was soon transferred...to E wing where he broke a pool cue in the office and then hit an {officer} across the face with it. {He} sustained a broken nose, which needed surgery. Other staff were also hit with the pool cue and two were bitten," the report says.

Image caption A High Court judge criticised the home secretary after Muslim men were forced to play next to a toilet

G4S said it had increased staffing levels at Brook House, appointed a new director, refurbished parts of the building and taken action to address most of the 52 recommendations in the report.

"At Brook House we provide an environment in which the men detained can feel safe and are well cared for," the company said.

The Home Office - which is criticised in the report for focusing on removing detainees rather than their health and welfare - said it had already announced a series of reforms.

"These included doing more work with partners to develop further alternatives to detention, improving support for the most vulnerable, the introduction of a new drive on dignity and a commitment to be more transparent," a spokesperson said.

Inside Brook House

Although the design of the building is modelled on a Category B prison, Brook House has a more relaxed feel inside.

Staff don't carry batons or jangle a huge bunch of keys and the detainees, dressed in their own clothes, wander around relatively freely.

The centre I saw, during a rare, authorised visit this week, was spotless, in contrast to the "poor" conditions identified in the report.

Dozens of men were engaged in activities, on computers, in the gym, at a language class and in the arts and craft room; shouting and yelling could be heard from the football pitch - all very different from what the report found.

Despite the difficulties in managing a centre whose occupants come from 14 different countries and have uncertain futures, staff appear to making a real effort to bring about the improvements the report says are so sorely needed.

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