The Closing Statement on behalf of Medical Justice was heard yesterday – our points included are below. Closing statements by other Core Participants were also heard yesterday and continue today. A link to the live sessions and transcripts is here.
The Chair’s closing statement will be available from the afternoon of Wednesday 6th April.
The closing statements sum up evidence from over 75 witnesses heard by the Inquiry, including formerly detained people, Brook House IRC officers and senior managers, Home Office officials, healthcare staff (doctors and nurses), representatives from HM Inspector of Prisons and Independent Monitoring Board, three experts appointed by the Inquiry (covering clinical, cultural and use of force issues), and charities who advocate for the rights of detained people.
The mistreatment of people in detention and the systemic failures to safeguard the vulnerable was widely recognised during the Brook House Inquiry, including by Home Office officials and the Inquiry’s appointed experts.
One Home Office official, Ian Castle, said “I think, if you spend more than 24 hours in Brook House, you’re going to develop mental health issues.”
Points from the Closing Statement on behalf of Medical Justice included:
The fundamental cause of the ill-treatment captured on BBC Panorama
- The welfare of vulnerable detained people, a high proportion of whom suffer from mental illnesses arising from history of torture and abuse, is routinely treated as an obstacle to removal. Removal is prioritised above all other considerations.
- This was reinforced by the contractual arrangements which put a premium on price and profit over care and respect for fundamental human rights.
- Immigration detention is not designed, staffed or resourced to meet the needs of vulnerable detained people – it harms them. Restraints and segregation are used to manage crises which are manifestations of mental health conditions, often exacerbated by the conditions of detention.
The Home Office has ‘designed in’ an inability to learn lessons
- There is no clear process for feeding back to managers of IRCs, Home Office decision makers, contractors, and healthcare providers when there are serious findings of fault. Shockingly, not even from the most serious court findings of ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ or from inquest jury findings, where harm was caused by systems defects and neglect had contributed to actual deaths of detained people.
- One senior Home Office official, Ian Cheeseman, acknowledged these structural deficiencies without emotion, and unapologetically.
- Several senior Home Office officials had not taken the time to read the material provided to them by the Inquiry prior to giving evidence, or followed the hearings.
Condemnation of healthcare
- The Inquiry’s clinical expert, Dr. Hard, concluded that there was “a complete systems failure” of the safeguards. Where they did operate, they were “dysfunctional.” Sandra Calver, Head of Healthcare, and Dr. Oozeerally, the lead GP (still both working at Brook House IRC) gave evidence that these were systemic deficiencies across the detention estate and that they are continuing.
- What is also “100% unacceptable” according to Dr. Hard was the complicity that doctors and nurses still in post at Brook House IRC played in approving (and at times sanctioning) the use of force, restraints and segregation. This was contrary to their ethical duties.
- Neither witness from the company currently contracted to provide healthcare at Brook House IRC, were willing to commit to remedying this situation, describing it as a problem across all immigration removal centres that depended on the Home Office to take the lead and make resources available.
Use of force / Control and Restraint (C&R)
- Mr. Collier, the Inquiry’s expert on Use of Force, was “massively” concerned not only by the use of pain-inducing measures that were banned for being dangerous, but also by the cavalier confidence in those responsible that they will not be found out.
- Too many staff may profess they “love doing C&R” (testimony of Owen Syred) and vulnerable detainees were in the hands of uncaring, disbelieving staff “whose default position was to make their life difficult” (testimony of Owen Syred) and other employees who enabled such mistreatment by their inaction
Abusive, corrupted culture that dehumanises people in detention
- An environment desensitised to the suffering of detainees allowed an abusive culture to thrive and become normal including highly derogatory, racist language and attitudes. This was not just a sub-culture among ‘core groups’ of custody officers; it was the dominant culture, able to inculcate new staff members, engendered through intimidation, bullying and fear, and it normalised complicity and the silence of others (highlighted by the evidence of Owen Syred a Detention Custody Officer).
- The casual recurring use of the phrase by custodial staff when dealing with detained persons: “If he dies, he dies” was telling. The officers’ attempt at an explanation – that it was a quote from a movie – reflects how callous, brutal and violent the indifference was toward detained persons, and their failure to recognise this.
- Virtually all G4S officers who gave evidence attributed their use of derogatory and abusive language to everyday ‘banter’ behind closed doors, and as a way to ‘fit in’. One officer, Daniel Lake, said “think of it as a sheep in a herd. You know, I’m just following suit what everyone else did, just using the terminology that was used”. These attitudes and practices became embedded within the culture with alarming ease, creating a context of impunity and providing the conditions for racism, violence and abuse to thrive.
- Dehumanising attitudes included a commonplace disbelief around detained people self-harming which was characterised as attention-seeking, manipulative behaviour calculated to avoid removal, and requiring a coercive response, rather than a trigger for review of detention, consideration of the vulnerability of the individual and the possibility of release: “if you are self harming you’re an attention seeking little prick”.
- The head of healthcare, conceded that the language used by nursing staff was inappropriate, dehumanising and degrading but maintained that derogatory comments about detained people by clinical staff may be permissible if made “in a safe space” between officers as a way to let off steam.
- There was a complete absence of any effective oversight or leadership from senior managers at G4S who had known since at least 2014 that there was a bullying culture among the staff from various witnesses, but took no action taken. This encouraged impunity and gave further protection to the dominant toxic culture and sanctioned it by their inaction, silence or indifference.
- It is apparent from all of the many sources of evidence received by the Inquiry that the toxic and morally corrupted culture was pervasive. There was a complete deprivation of systemic safeguards, both inherent in the design of policy and in its operation across the whole centre.
- Racism – the worst kind of dehumanisation – thrived. It served as both the precipitant and the justification for unchecked mistreatment and abuse, and reckless indifference to the mental suffering, humiliation and anguish of the detained population as a whole and individually.
- The absence of regulation and constraint on staff allowed this culture to thrive and permitted overt acts of physical and verbal violence and mistreatment, seen on Panorama, to take place with impunity and without regard to the physical and mental harm that the detained people suffered, and even at times, to whether they lived or died.
A “perfect storm” of conditions for abuse and ill-treatment to occur and reoccur
- Medical Justice’s Dr. Bingham described the combination of conditions at Brook House as “perfect storm” for abuse and ill-treatment of vulnerable people to occur and reoccur. The Inquiry’s clinical expert, Dr. Hard, agreed.
- The Inquiry painted a vivid picture of an extremely harmful machine out of anyone’s control with enough moving parts for each person involved to effectively point to someone else as being responsible. This is exacerbated by multiple layers of outsourcing.
- All the evidence points to the inevitable conclusion that Brook House IRC was an inhumane and degrading environment in 2017 which was not identified by the Home Office, by those who run Brook House IRC or by the official bodies who monitor it – only by uncover reporting.
- The Inquiry’s chair, Kate Eves, expressed concern for 5 people currently detained at Brook House IRC who are on suicide watch.
This is the only public inquiry there has ever been into immigration detention
- All the many previous reviews and investigations into immigration detention did not result in significant, lasting change. This Public Inquiry has had the ability to compel the participation of all those (except Ministers) who have played a part in the establishment and running of an IRC and for them to be cross-examined, with input from expert Core Participants, including Medical Justice and formally detained people. This has enabled investigation into all the inter-related elements of a complex machine, from all angles, exposing the true extent of systemic failures and mistreatment.
- The Inquiry has been a unique opportunity for the public to understand the harm caused by detention and for those who have been abused, who have bravely given evidence, to confront the faceless men and women in suits responsible; not just those in uniforms.
Oral evidence can be watched from Dr Rachel Bingham (Medical Justice Clinical Advisor) starts at 25 mins and Theresa Schleicher (Medical Justice Casework Manager) starts at 1 hour 57 mins.