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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Immigration centre detainess win first step in bid for inquiry into 'widespread abuse'

Written by Sian Harrison

Two former detainees at a scandal-hit immigration centre have won the first stage of a High Court bid for a public inquiry into alleged "widespread abuse" by officers.

The two men, identified only as MA and BB, were detained at the Brook House facility (pictured) near Gatwick Airport, run by G4S.

A BBC Panorama programme in September last year featured undercover footage from the centre which showed alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers.

After the documentary aired, 10 members of staff at the centre were suspended and Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes described the allegations as "appalling".

Lawyers for MA and BB told the court on Tuesday that a full, independent and public inquiry was needed to address the issues of "very grave concern" raised by the programme.

Stephanie Harrison QC, on behalf of MA, said he was a young man whose mental health "deteriorated progressively" while he was in detention.

She told the court he was "subjected to intentional assaults, humiliation and degradation by officers" and on one occasion an officer threatened to "put him to sleep" while digging his fingers into his neck.

Ms Harrison added: "He resorted to self-harm by food refusal and wounding himself and to multiple attempts at suicide by hanging or strangling which were not addressed in accordance with guidelines or at all, and proper procedures which should have led to his release were not put in train.

"Instead his expressions of distress and disturbed behaviour were treated as triggers to or occasions to ill-treat and abuse him."

Nick Armstrong, for BB, said: "What is striking about the Panorama programme is not just what happened, but how widespread it appears to have been, and the period over which the abuses were committed.

"Perhaps even more striking, however, is the complete failure of any safeguarding mechanism to pick up what was happening."

He said BB's case is that an inquest-like process is needed to find out what was happening at the centre and to examine why safeguards failed.

Lisa Giovannetti QC, representing the Home Secretary, said the Government has made it quite clear it takes the matters "extremely seriously", but there are other mechanisms available for the claimants to seek legal redress.

She said: "The Immigration Minister has said that she was appalled by the Panorama footage, and is determined that lessons are learned and there is a change of culture."

She also said a number of measures have already been introduced and the Government is "committed" to publishing a report by Stephen Shaw, a former Ombudsman.

Mr Justice Holman gave both men permission for a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision not to order a public inquiry.

The judge said the Equality and Human Rights Commission had written to the court saying it believes a full inquiry is "required".

No date was set for the judicial review hearing.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "We are pleased with today's ruling and are glad our concerns played such a significant part in the court's decision.

"We will be applying to participate in these cases in due course."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Gareth Fuller / PA Wire.