A shocking culture of abuse by staff towards detainees at Brook House immigration detention centre was described by a whistleblower giving evidence to a public inquiry into widespread mistreatmeant of detainees at the G4S-run site.
The former Brook House officer Callum Tulley described repeatedly witnessing abusive behaviour by officers towards detainees, and told the inquiry that he was so disturbed by it that he had felt compelled to contact the BBC and begin undercover filming at the centre.
Tulley described witnessing a group of G4S staff taunting a naked detainee in his solitary confinement cell, as they attempted to move him to a van before a planned deportation. “They were laughing at him, making comments about his body, about his penis,” Tulley said. “He was completely humiliated, just clearly distressed. It was shocking to see it.”
Tulley, who started work at the centre as an 18-year-old, heard staff boasting about putting on George Michael masks and dancing outside the cell of a prisoner on suicide watch, “to scare him or to freak him out”. Detainees would often be referred by some members of staff as “cunts”. “The word ‘banter’ would be used to justify such language,” Tulley said, adding that staff would modify their language when prison monitors were visiting the centre.
A significant minority of staff working at Brook House immigration detention centre were involved in the abuse towards detainees while he was working there between 2015 and 2017. The rest turned a blind eye and “there was a culture of silence”. Tulley said he had not known how to raise his concerns, because he had witnessed his supervisors behaving abusively towards detainees. “Managers were complicit in the abuse of detainees,” he said. Staff members who showed empathy for detainees were routinely mocked by their colleagues. There was a “hostility towards treating detainees kindly and with compassion”.
“People like myself had no confidence that going to the senior management team would be anything other than fruitless,” he said. Company posters encouraging staff to speak out if they witnessed abuse were graffitied with the words “snitches, don’t be a rat, grass”.
Tulley said chronic staff shortages created an excessively high workload, which meant officers were “often irritable, stretched, overworked, unapproachable and tired, and this would often lead to staff taking their frustrations out on detainees”. Although there were meant to be three officers on a wing containing 100 detainees, this made it “an impossible place for detainees to live.”
“Even if you forget the abuse and the racism that I’ve witnessed, it was not a fit and proper place or humane place in which to house detainees; needs could not be met,” he said.
The review into what happened at Brook House between April and August 2017 is focused on the culture and attitudes among staff at the time amid reports of detainees being mistreated. In September that year, BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the then G4S-run site.
After the broadcast, 10 members of staff were dismissed or resigned. No prosecutions were brought after a police investigation, but two former detainees successfully argued a full independent investigation was needed. G4S has since stopped running Brook House as well as Tinsley House, both of which are located next to Gatwick airport. The contracts were awarded to another outsourcing firm, Serco, in May last year.