Suella Braverman halted annual inspections of immigration detention centers such as Brook House last year, shortly after ministers received direct warnings that vulnerable people, including torture victims, had not been been protected, the immigration watchdog revealed.
In an article in the Guardian, David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI), said the Home Secretary had halted his annual review of “adults at risk” in referral centers last September.
The decision came days after Neal specifically warned Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick that protections needed to be put in place for “vulnerable detainees” and that the necessary changes were moving at a “glacial pace”, he said. -he writes.
A major investigation found on Tuesday that people detained at Brook House detention center in 2017 were mistreated in “prison-like” conditions, with staff making dehumanizing and racist comments and being quick to resort to violence. strength.
The investigation found that people at Brook House who were supposed to be deported from the UK were subjected to degrading treatment, including forcibly detained while naked, and suffered unnecessary pain due to torture techniques. dangerous restraints. He also said homophobic comments had been made towards a detainee at the center near Gatwick Airport.
Neal writes: “When I submitted my final report to the Home Secretary in September 2022, I called a meeting with the Minister for Immigration, Robert Jenrick, to brief him on the latest findings and advise him of my concern about the lack of progress in making improvements. to immigration detention.
“I said it was necessary to take the lead and make a concerted effort to better protect vulnerable prisoners.
“Discouragingly, although I had made it clear that there was still much work to be done, my discussion with Minister Jenrick was quickly followed by notification from the Home Secretary that she was ending the commission of his predecessor for an annual inspection of ICIBI,” he said.
In 2018, Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary, asked ICIBI to report annually on the effectiveness of measures taken by the Home Office to protect vulnerable people in detention.
Neal writes that he has conducted two inspections but the defects have not been corrected and that implementation of the recommendations is “moving at a glacial pace.”
“Even more worrying is my conclusion that the Home Office lacks the will to meet the challenges. The department’s responses to my reports have been characterized by defensiveness and excuses rather than a commitment to improvement and positive change.
Neal, a Royal Military Police brigadier who oversaw the detention of insurgents in Afghanistan, said lessons could be learned from the methods used by the army.
“In all these years, under all this pressure, I have never seen my soldiers behave anything other than decent, respectful and professional with the detainees. It is therefore all the more shocking that, as the Brook House inquiry revealed, immigration detention staff at a site just outside Gatwick Airport were capable of such cruelty,” he wrote.
Neal’s three-year term ends in March and was not renewed by the Home Office. His two predecessors were reappointed for a second term.
OpenDemocracy revealed on Monday that Home Office officials said Neal was “overly critical” after finding the department’s treatment of people at its Kent facilities had been “unacceptable” in a report published in July 2022.
The 711-page Brook House inquiry report, published on Tuesday after more than three years of investigation, was ordered by former Home Secretary Priti Patel after the BBC’s Panorama program broadcast Covert footage of violence and abuse against vulnerable inmates at Brook House. 2017.
The report identifies 19 cases in which inquiry chair Kate Eves found “credible evidence” of acts or omissions that may amount to ill-treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the European Convention on Rights of Man, which states that no one may be subjected to torture or torture. inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.
The center was found to be overcrowded, dirty and noisy from nearby Gatwick planes, while activities for detainees were limited and use of the spice “zombie drug” was prolific, with evidence that inmates guards introduced him into the center.
Eves said: “Brook House was not sufficiently decent, secure and did not take sufficient care of those detained or its staff at the time these events took place. »
She said this was “completely unsuitable for detaining people for anything other than a short period”.
Eves made 33 recommendations that the report said, if implemented, would ensure what happened at Brook House does not happen again and provide a more humane, compassionate and professional environment.
Reacting to Neal’s comments, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The way Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak are running away from proper scrutiny of the asylum and immigration system is completely shameful and irresponsible.
“Preventing the independent border inspector from examining detention centers, and then terminating David Neal’s contract because he produced critical reports, are two signs of a government unable to face accountability or maintain appropriate standards, and who tries to hide the chaos in which he finds himself. created in the asylum system.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the welfare and safety of those in our care very seriously and the adults at risk policy remains in place alongside regular inspections carried out by several statutory bodies to ensure that our detention centers are safe, secure and humane. .
“The independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration continues to have the ability to undertake detention-related inspections as part of normal reporting cycles. »