Home Office in major U turn agrees to Article 3-compliant investigation by PPO into abuse at Brook House IRC

The Home Office have backed down and agreed to the appointment of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) to undertake a bespoke and independent Article 3 ECHR-compliant investigation into abuse of detainees at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) exposed by a BBC Panorama documentary in September 2017.

The decision to order an independent investigation into abuse at Brook House IRC represents a major U-turn by the Home Office and came about following a legal challenge by two men detained at Brook House.

Judicial Review proceedings were brought by MA and BB, who featured prominently on a documentary by BBC Panorama, “Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets”, broadcast on 4 September 2017. The undercover footage from the documentary revealed extensive physical and verbal abuse of detainees by officers,  including racist abuse and an officer strangling a detainee and threatening to put him “to sleep” before detention and healthcare staff conspired to cover it up.

In the wake of the documentary, MA and BB requested that the Home Office institute an independent inquiry to investigate the credible evidence of inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The detainees’ case was that a review was needed of the systemic and institutional failings of the Home Office and G4S’s running of detention centres as well as the indications of racism, and a cultural indifference to human suffering that allowed such abuse of detainees and their welfare to be placed at such risk.

The Home Office in response repeatedly refused to initiate an independent inquiry, claiming that the current mechanisms in place were sufficient to meet their duties under Article 3.

Judicial Review proceedings were brought by MA and BB against the Home Office for their failure to institute an Article 3-compliant inquiry. Permission to proceed with the claim was granted by the High Court at a hearing on 22 May 2018 and a final hearing was listed for 17-18 October. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) were granted permission to intervene after expressing their own concerns that the Home Office were not acting in compliance with their duties under Article 3.

The Home Office vigorously defended their position throughout the proceedings. However, less than four weeks before the final hearing, in a major U-turn, the Home Office confirmed that they had reversed their position and that a request had been made to the PPO to undertake “a dedicated bespoke independent Article 3 compliant investigation”. This will be the first investigation of its type into immigration detention for over 13 years.

The Judicial Review proceedings have been adjourned until the end of November whilst decisions are taken on what the investigation will cover, what powers the PPO will have and the involvement of the victims of the Brook House abuse. Both MA and BB have repeatedly urged the Home Office to ensure that this investigation is meaningful and effective, with public, oral hearings, proper questioning of witnesses, and substantive involvement for victims. Without such measures, the victims and the wider public will be doubly failed: by the abuse that occurred, and the inadequacy of the Home Office’s response.

Joanna Thomson, a Partner and Solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG) Solicitors, who represented BB, had the following to say:

“Panorama revealed shocking deliberate abuse of detainees by detention staff. And that was probably only the tip of the ice berg. Staff were shown bragging about how they mistreated vulnerable detainees and how they cover up the evidence. It is shameful that it has taken the government over a year to concede that this investigation is needed and it is imperative that the Home Office now acts quickly to give the PPO the powers needed to make this investigation effective.”  

James Wilson, Director of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (GDWG), a charity that visits and supports detainees at Brook House, said as follows:

We greatly welcome the announcement of this investigation.  We hope that this inquiry provides a thorough exploration of the circumstances that led to the horrific scenes captured by Panorama.  It is vital, too, that this process examines the widespread and serious structural failings of the immigration detention system in the UK as a whole, not least the fundamental injustice of indefinite detention itself.”

BB was represented by Joanna Thomson and Mark Hylands of DPG Solicitors. They instructed Nick Armstrong of Matrix Chambers and Jesse Nicholls of Doughty Street Chambers.

You can view the full press release about the case here. For further press coverage, please see Diane Taylor’s publication in the Guardian here and by the BBC here.