The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Priti Patel, announced yesterday to Parliament that the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman (PPO) investigation of Brook House immigration removal centre (IRC), set up to investigate the abuses revealed in the BBC Panorama documentary ‘Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets’, has been converted to a statutory public inquiry in accordance with the Inquiries Act 2005. This announcement comes following the successful judicial review challenge brought by Duncan Lewis Solicitors and Deighton Pierce Glynn, on behalf of two former detainees MA and BB, earlier this year.
The judicial review challenge was brought by MA and BB, two ex-detainees who featured prominently on the documentary by BBC Panorama, “Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets”, broadcast on 4 September 2017. The documentary followed an undercover detention officer secretly filming inside Brook House on behalf of the BBC. The footage revealed repeated, routine and appalling mistreatment and abuse including racial abuse of detainees by officers. Most shockingly, it showed one officer strangling MA and threatening to put him “to sleep” before detention and healthcare staff conspired to cover it up.
In the judgment handed down in June of this year, Mrs Justice May held that there was “a real risk amounting to an overwhelming probability that former G4S staff will not attend voluntarily to give evidence”. The PPO needed the power to compel witness, to ensure the officers the officers were called to give evidence so they could explain “why and how they came to do it so openly, and so regularly, without complaint or criticism…” She also held that it was right to “afford the abused detainee an opportunity to see and confront their abuser on equal terms, as a means of restoring dignity and respect to the person from whom it has been so wholly stripped away.”
Mrs Justice May also ruled that MA and BB were entitled to publicly-funded lawyers: “When dignity and humanity has been stripped, one purpose of an effective investigation must be to restore what has been taken away through identifying and confronting those responsible, so far as it is possible … How is that to be done in any meaningful way here unless MA and BB, non-lawyers where English is not their first language, are enabled through representation to meet their (alleged) abusers on equal terms?”
The inquiry will be the first of its kind under the Inquiries Act 2005 into immigration detention in the UK. The inquiry, which will investigate alleged ‘systemic and institutional’ failures will have statutory powers to compel witnesses, to hold hearings in public, and to provide funding for legal representation for victims.
Priti Patel, said “The government takes any allegation of mistreatment, and the welfare of immigration detainees, very seriously, and I want to establish the facts of what took place at Brook House and ensure that lessons are learnt to prevent these shocking events happening again.”
Nicholas Hughes, one of the team members representing MA in the judicial review proceedings, said: “While we welcome this announcement, it is long overdue. There have been repeated delays on the part of the Home Office to convert the PPO investigation under the Inquiries Act 2005, following decisions of both the Administrative Court and the Court of Appeal emphasising the need for this to proceed ‘without further delay’. There have been numerous investigations into immigration detention over the years, none of which have had the power to compel witnesses, allow effective victim participation, and none of which have prevented immigration detainees from being bullied, subjected to racist abuse, or being physically assaulted. A thorough, independent and effective investigation into the culture of abuse at Brook House IRC is essential to ensure that the lessons can be learnt and to protect some of the most vulnerable individuals in society from further abuse.”
MA is represented by Lewis Kett and Nicholas Hughes of Duncan Lewis Solicitors’ Public Law team, instructing Stephanie Harrison QC of Garden Court Chambers and Alex Goodman of Landmark Chambers.
BB is represented by Joanna Thomson and Mark Hylands of Deighton Pierce Glynn instructing barristers Nick Armstrong of Matrix Chambers and Jesse Nicholls of Doughty Street Chambers.