Home Office fails in bid to challenge terms of investigation at immigration centre

The Home Office has failed in a bid to challenge a High Court ruling over the terms of an investigation into alleged abuse at a scandal-hit immigration detention centre.

Two former detainees at Brook House immigration removal centre, identified only as MA and BB, successfully argued that a full independent investigation into “systemic and institutional failures” was needed “to ensure fact-finding, accountability and lesson-learning”.

Their case followed 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.

The footage appears to show one detention custody officer holding MA down while whispering in his ear: “Don’t move you f***ing piece of shit. I’m going to put you to f***ing sleep.”

BB, who alleges that officers used excessive force on him after he threatened to kill himself, later claimed: “The abuse shown on Panorama wasn’t even half of what really went on.”

Fourteen members of G4S staff were dismissed or resigned following the broadcast, and the Home Office asked the prisons and probation ombudsman (PPO) to carry out an investigation.

In June, the High Court found that there was “a real risk amounting to an overwhelming probability that former G4S staff will not attend voluntarily to give evidence”, and ruled that “the PPO must have a power to compel witness attendance”.

Mrs Justice May held that “the egregious nature of the breaches”, which she said were “repeated events, in front of others, where the perpetrators were managers and trainers, as well as ordinary officers”, required the PPO to have such powers.

The judge also ruled that MA and BB were entitled to publicly-funded lawyers, saying: “When dignity and humanity has been stripped, one purpose of an effective investigation must be to restore what has been taken away through identifying and confronting those responsible, so far as it is possible.

“How is that to be done in any meaningful way here unless MA and BB, non-lawyers where English is not their first language, are enabled through representation to meet their (alleged) abusers on equal terms?”

On Thursday, MA and BB’s legal teams announced that the Court of Appeal had rejected the Home Office’s application to challenge Mrs Justice May’s ruling.

After considering the application without an oral hearing, Lord Justice Bean ruled: “I do not consider that there is any realistic prospect of success in the proposed appeal.”

The judge said it was “difficult to see how a satisfactory investigation could be carried out in the present case without the alleged perpetrators of the abuse being required to give evidence”.

He added: “The special investigation should be permitted to proceed without further delay.”

Following the High Court’s ruling in June, BB’s solicitor Joanna Thomson said in a statement: “The victims at Brook House suffered dreadful inhuman and degrading treatment.

“They have also suffered the injustice of the Government’s failure to hold an effective inquiry.

“This important judgment should now lead to an investigation that will uncover the truth so that there are no further abuse scandals in the UK’s immigration removal centres.”

MA’s solicitor, Lewis Kett of Duncan Lewis, said the June ruling “ensures that those officers can be held to account for their actions and that the PPO will be better equipped to get to the heart of why this happened and how to ensure it is never repeated”.

Last month, a National Audit Office investigation found G4S has made £14.3 million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018.

Following the revelation, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, accused the Home Office of a “shockingly cavalier approach” to sensitive contracts.

Ms Cooper said the NAO’s findings raised “serious questions” about the Home Office’s handling of sensitive contracts and claimed its monitoring should have picked up problems sooner.

She said: “For G4S to be making up to 20% gross profits on the Brook House contract at the same time as such awful abuse by staff against detainees was taking place is extremely troubling.”

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

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