UK

Immigration removal centre Brook House branded 'unsafe'

Brook House
Image caption Brook House opened in 2009

An immigration removal centre has been branded "fundamentally unsafe" by a watchdog, a year after it opened.

Prisons inspector Dame Anne Owers said an assessment of safety at Brook House, at Gatwick Airport, had produced the "worst ever results".

Dame Anne said embattled staff had struggled to maintain control of large numbers of foreign prisoners.

The Home Office said it was extremely disappointed by the report but had accepted its broad conclusions.

Brook House, opened in March 2009, is designed to hold more than 400 men. It has a similar style of security to a Category B prison, the second highest level of imprisonment.

At the time of the inspection, in March, more than a third of its detainees had come directly from prison or police stations. About a fifth of those being held were offenders subject to monitoring because of violent or sexual offences.

Dame Anne, the outgoing chief inspector of prisons, said that over six months there had been 105 assaults, mostly against staff, and 35 incidents of self-harm by detainees themselves.

In all, she said, there were serious problems with bullying, violence and drugs, with some detainees saying the centre was worse than prison.

"There had been significant staff turnover, particularly following an outbreak of serious disorder the previous summer," said the chief inspector.

"While many staff tried hard to maintain order and control, many felt embattled."

"A number of staff reported feeling unsupported by managers, and detainees claimed that some staff were bullied by more difficult detainees."

Dame Anne said that many new prisons or detention centres experienced difficulties - but inspectors had expected Brook House's managers to deal with "teething problems".

Instead, she said there was a "degree of despair" among detainees that inspectors had rarely encountered. Overall, the inspectors recorded the worst results for safety they had seen in the immigration removal system.

"The challenges of opening a new immigration removal centre should not be underestimated, particularly with inexperienced staff and challenging detainees, many of them ex-prisoners," said Dame Anne.

"The challenge at Brook House was significantly compounded by poor design, which built in boredom.

"But none of this can excuse the fundamentally unsafe state of Brook House, which must be urgently addressed by G4S [the contractor] and the UK Border Agency."

David Wood, head of detention at the Home Office's UK Border Agency, said he was extremely disappointed with the report, but had already acted swiftly on Dame Anne's conclusions and recommendations.

"Since the inspection, we have introduced an anti-bullying policy and additional support for staff, including designated mentors," said Mr Wood.

"We are also developing a comprehensive drugs strategy for the estate, to supplement the intelligence-led approach we have to preventing drugs coming in and being used in the centre.

"We are continuing to build excellent working relationships with the local police, which have already led to a number of drugs prosecutions."

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