Border Criminologies Statement on the Brook House Inquiry

On September 19th, the Brook House Inquiry published the results of a four-year-long investigation into the abuse, mistreatment, and neglect of people in immigration Custody at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre. The inquiry was ordered by then home secretary Priti Patel in 2019 after the BBC’s Panorama program uncovered footage of physical violence and verbal abuse against vulnerable detainees during a five-month period from April and August 2017. As a public inquiry into conditions in UK immigration detention, the Brook House inquiry was the first of its kind, and found evidence of nineteen incidents which constituted credible breaches of Article 3 of the ECHR, which prohibits torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Evidence collected by the Inquiry demonstrates clearly that the failure of detention safeguards meant that people were allowed to deteriorate, without adequate provision for medical or mental health care. The report also presents clear evidence that staff at Brook House routinely used physical force against detainees in inappropriate and unnecessary ways. According to the inquiry, a ‘toxic culture’ prevailed at Brook House, fuelled by the ‘prisonisation’ of the facility. The Home Office and G4S allowed a culture to develop which was a ‘breeding ground for racist views’ with the routine use of racial stereotyping, abusive and derogatory language by custodial staff.

The report also makes 33 recommendations for ‘necessary’ changes to both Brook House and the wider immigration detention system. These recommendations include:

  • A 28-day time limit on immigration detention
  • A fundamental review of the safeguarding framework under Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001, as no significant improvements to the standard of safeguarding have been made since 2017.
  • A comprehensive review of the use of force in immigration detention.
  • Training for healthcare staff on their safeguarding role, including in relation to the use of force.
  • Review of a range of detention policies, including custody, food and medical care.

Overall, the evidence presented to the Inquiry clearly demonstrates that the Home Office is not capable of providing a system of immigration detention which respects fundamental rights. The Inquiry’s report indicates that abuse, racism and violence became normalised in Brook House. This was the result of features of the immigration detention system, and Home Office policy, that created fertile conditions for those abuses to take place.

As Prof. Mary Bosworth told the inquiry:

“in a place like Brook House, and in Brook House specifically at the time, I think that was evident in the footage, in the kind of levels of distress that were evident. But I would expect to find those levels of distress in all detention centres… I think the only way you could really completely mitigate this would be to not use a custodial environment for managing people's immigration cases, and, given that most immigration cases are, in fact, handled in the community, I think that that is  a perfectly reasonable goal to be pursuing”

Overall, the report of the Brook House Inquiry re-affirms the robust, existing body of evidence demonstrating the inherent harms of immigration detention. As the Chair of the Inquiry Kate Eves observed in her statement on the release of the report ‘the events that occurred at Brook House cannot be repeated.’ Indeed, noting the government’s plans to expand the use of immigration detention, Eves observes that ‘any expansion or other change should be considered in the context of learning lessons from past failures. The failure to act on previous recommendations is a dark thread that runs through this report. With depressing regularity, I am making broadly similar findings and recommendations to those made in the long line of investigations that proceeded this inquiry.’

Rather than expanding the use of detention, we agree with the British Medical Association that the only solution is to phase out detention and consider credible alternatives (as identified by UNHCR). It would be unconscionable for the government to press ahead with its planned massive expansion of detention, knowing of the abuse and harm that detention causes, and which the government presides over.

Under these circumstances, while a first step would be for the government to (1) commit to implementing the recommendations from the Brook House Inquiry and (2) ensure the safety and welfare of detained people, including by fixing the currently dysfunctional safeguards. On their own these reforms are not sufficient.  Instead, as this inquiry and decades of academic research and first hand accounts reveal, it is time to end immigration detention once and for all. 

You can find the two reports Mary Bosworth contributed to the Inquiry here and here.


Read our recent blog posts on immigration detention in the UK: 

G. Cuéllar. (2023) The Religious Care Spaces in Immigration Detention

Border Criminologies (2023) Border Control as Politics

S. Cartwright. (2022) Quasi-Detention: The Expansion of Dehumanising Border Spaces

Jaspars, S. (2021) The Everyday Cruelties of the UK Asylum System

Cartwright,S. (2020). The Routine Detention of Survivors of Trafficking in the UK: The Perpetuation of Exploitation

Cuéllar, G. (2020). Religion in Immigration Detention: Comparing the US and UK

Vincett, J. (2020). Public Engagement and Exposure of the Harms of Immigration Detention through Illustrated Narratives

Bhui, H. (2018) Not Enough Attention to the Needs of Young People in UK Immigration Detention

Wasolua, R. (2018) The Truth about Immigration Detention and Young Arrivers Like Me 

Godshaw, D. (2018) Young Arrivers’ Routes to Immigration Detention and Specific Forms of Harm

Vincett, J. (2017) (Re)entering the World of Immigration Detention in Britain

Pinkowska, P. (2017) Complying with what? Problematising the notion of non-compliance in the UK immigration detention 

Bosworth, M. (2017) From the Field: Locking and Unlocking Detention

Bosworth, M. (2017) Affect and Authority in Immigration Detention

Gerlach, A. (2017) The Pains of Detention: Exploring the Concepts of Justice, Legitimacy and Dignity

Hopgood, J. (2017) Fractured Childhoods: The Separation of Families by Immigration Detention

Kemp, T. (2021). Thinking Solidarity Through Immigration Detention Visiting