Ex-detainees in court bid for public inquiry into scandal-hit immigration centre

Two former detainees at a scandal-hit immigration detention centre have taken the Home Office to the High Court in a bid for a public inquiry into alleged “systemic and institutional failures” at the centre.

The two men – identified only as MA and BB – were detained at Brook House immigration removal centre (pictured) and claim a full independent investigation is needed “to ensure fact-finding, accountability and lesson-learning”.

Their case follows a BBC Panorama programme broadcast in September 2017 which featured undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the G4S-run centre near Gatwick Airport.

At least six members of staff were dismissed by G4S following the broadcast.

The Home Office accepts there is “credible evidence” that detainees at Brook House have been subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, and has asked the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) to carry out an investigation.

But MA and BB – supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – argue the PPO has no power to compel witnesses to give evidence, and its investigation will only allow “minimal victim participation”.

They claim Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, requires a public inquiry into alleged abuses at Brook House.

Opening the case in London on Thursday, MA’s barrister Stephanie Harrison QC said “the most effective way to secure a prompt and effective inquiry” into the “grave and serious abuses which were exposed by the Panorama programme” is for the High Court to order a statutory inquiry.

She said the proposed PPO investigation is “woefully inadequate”, and the Home Office had refused to accept “any meaningful role for MA in the investigation”.

Nick Armstrong, representing BB, said “the appalling state of affairs exposed by Panorama goes deeper than that which was broadcast by the BBC”.

He said a number of former Brook House detainees had “provided further detailed allegations of serious abuse and mistreatment of detainees that is consistent with that revealed by Panorama, including deliberate and unjustified use of force by staff, repeated segregation of detainees suffering from serious mental ill-health, and endemic drug use within Brook House that was facilitated and tolerated by members of staff”.

Mr Armstrong added: “Only a proper independent investigation, with powers of compulsion, public questioning of witnesses and meaningful victim involvement… will suffice to ensure fact-finding, accountability and lesson-learning.”

Lisa Giovanetti QC, for the Home Office, said in written submissions that “the Government has made it quite clear that it takes these matters extremely seriously”, and also accepts “the nature of the allegations are such that it would be appropriate to conduct an investigation which looks into systemic issues”.

She submitted that a full inquiry “risks not producing a sufficiently prompt, or flexible, response tailored to meet the specific needs of the case”, and the PPO’s “fundamental independence” from Government makes it an appropriate body to carry out the investigation.

She added that the need for the PPO investigation “to begin now and conclude swiftly” is a “key reason” why a full public inquiry is inappropriate.

Mrs Justice May, who will hear submissions from the parties over two days, is expected to reserve her judgment.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Gareth Fuller / PA Wire.