11:00, August 08 36 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-08 11:00:06
Immigration centre abuse inquiry must be held in public, court says

The court of appeal has rejected an application by the Home Office to conduct an inquiry into claims of systemic abuse at an immigration detention centre in private, rejecting the claims that public hearings would be prohibitively expensive.

In a further blow to the government, the argument that 21 G4S staff involved in the abuse allegations should not be compelled to give evidence was also rejected.

Lord Justice Bean told the court of appeal: “The special investigation should be permitted to proceed without further delay.” He said of the Home Office’s application: “I do not consider there is any realistic prospect of success.”

In June a high court judge, Mrs Justice May, ordered hearings for an inquiry into claims of systemic abuse at Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick airport be held in public and said that 21 staff from the security firm G4S, who were working there at the time, could be compelled to give evidence. It is the first time a public inquiry into abuse claims in detention has been ordered.

The case was brought by two former immigration detainees known as MA and BB, who were featured in an undercover BBC Panorama programme about Brook House. Footage showed the first detainee being throttled by a member of G4S staff.

The programme, broadcast in September 2017, revealed a culture of chaos with officials mocking, abusing and assaulting detainees, prompting the security firm to order an independent review.

Despite the revelations, the Home Office awarded G4S a contract to run Brook House for a further two years.

Of the 21 staff involved in the allegations 11 were dismissed or left the organisation after the BBC programme, says G4S. Three staff involved in the allegations later resigned. One was dismissed after subsequent similar behaviour.

The Home Office asked the prisons and probation ombudsman to investigate the issues raised by Panorama. However, this investigation is being conducted behind closed doors and the G4S officers involved are not required to give evidence if they prefer not to.

Bean said in Thursday’s ruling: “It is 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.”

May said that while not all the hearings of the inquiry had to be held in public, some of them should be.

A public inquiry was required, she said, because the “full extent of the discreditable behaviour has not been exposed to public view”. Having open hearings would be necessary “to maintain public confidence in the rule of law”.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.



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