Braverman stopped immigration centre inspections despite safeguarding warnings | Immigration and asylum


Suella Braverman halted annual inspections of immigration detention centres such as Brook House last year, shortly after ministers received direct warnings that vulnerable people such as torture victims had been left unprotected, the immigration watchdog has disclosed.

In an article for the Guardian, David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI), said the home secretary stopped his annual review of “adults at risk” held in removal centres last September.

The decision came days after Neal specifically warned the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, that protections must be put in place for “vulnerable detainees” and necessary reforms were moving at a “glacial pace”, he wrote.

His comments come as a major inquiry reveals that people detained at Brook House immigration removal centre in 2017 were mistreated in “prison-like” conditions, with staff making dehumanising and racist comments and quick to use force.

In a piece for the Guardian, Neal writes: “When I submitted my last report to the home secretary in September 2022, I called for a meeting with the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, to give him the latest findings and to convey my concern about the lack of progress in making improvements to immigration detention.

“I said that there was a need for a ‘foot on the ball moment’ and a concerted effort to do better to provide protections for vulnerable detainees.

“Discouragingly, though I had made it clear that much work remained to be done, my discussion with Minister Jenrick was quickly followed by notification from the home secretary that she was terminating her predecessor’s commission for an annual ICIBI inspection,” he said.

In 2018, Sajid Javid, then the home secretary, asked the ICIBI to report each year on the effectiveness of the Home Office’s measures to safeguard vulnerable people in detention.

Neal writes that he has conducted two inspections but flaws have not been rectified and the implementation of recommendations is “proceeding at a glacial pace”.

“Even more concerning is my conclusion that the Home Office does not have the will to face up to the challenges. The department’s responses to my reports have been characterised by defensiveness and excuses rather than a commitment to improvement and positive change,” he said.

Neal, a brigadier in the Royal Military Police who oversaw the detention of insurgents in Afghanistan, said that lessons could be learned from the army’s methods.

“In all those years, under all that pressure, I never once saw my soldiers behaving in anything other than a decent, respectful and professional way with the detainees. It is all the more shocking then, that, as the Brook House inquiry has found, immigration detention staff at a site just outside Gatwick airport should have been capable of such cruelty,” he said.

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Neal’s three-year term comes to an end in March and has not been renewed by the Home Office. Both his predecessors were reappointed for a second term.

OpenDemocracy disclosed on Monday that Home Office officials said Neal was “excessively critical” after he found the government department’s treatment of people at its facilities in Kent had been “unacceptable” in a report published in July 2022.

The 711-page Brook House inquiry report, published on Tuesday after more than three years of investigation, was ordered by the former home secretary Priti Patel after BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast undercover footage of violence against and abuse of vulnerable detainees at the centre in 2017.

The report has identified 19 instances where the inquiry chair, Kate Eves, found “credible evidence” of acts or omissions, which were capable of amounting to mistreatment under article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which says no one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Home Office sources declined to comment.

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