The suicidal asylum seekers were subjected to force by guards whom the Home Office allowed to remain on duty despite the fact that they were “not effectively certified” in the safe use of the techniques. restraint, according to internal documents describing conditions at one of the UK’s most controversial immigration centers.
Experts say the department put lives at risk last year by deploying guard personnel whose training in the safe use of force had expired as it arrested hundreds of people who had crossed the English Channel in as part of an accelerated program to deport them.
The cache of 180 documents, obtained through freedom of information laws by the Observer and Liberty Investigates, reveal the desperation of those held at Brook House as the Home Office organized an intensive theft program to abduct those who had arrived in small boats to mainland Europe.
They show that the proportion of detainees subjected to force inside the removal center near Gatwick airport more than doubled last year.
Documents – which include written records, minutes taken at monitoring meetings, and complaints by inmates and staff – also provide rare insight into allegations of excessive force on the part of staff.
Serco, the entrepreneur who took over Brook House in May 2020, said he “completely refutes” the allegations, although he did not specify which allegations.
The disclosures reveal that after the first lockdown in March 2020, guard officers, who according to Home Office guidelines, should complete at least eight hours of training on the safe use of control and restraint techniques each year have received a “dispensation” allowing them to continue working.
“The danger created by staff delay for retraining is the increased risk of death in custody due to staff loss of knowledge and skills,” said Joanne Caffrey, 24-year-old former police officer and expert witness in the use of force. Under normal circumstances, more than one obsolete person would represent a “significant institutional failure,” she added.
Between July and December last year, Brook House was the government base for Operation Esparto – a 22 return flight program as part of a deportation option that allowed the UK to send people in the first EU country they entered. The process ended on December 31 with the end of the Brexit transition period.
Many detainees are believed to have survived torture and trafficking. Officers used force, including techniques that deliberately cause pain to gain obedience – called pain-inducing restraint – to prevent self-harm on 62 occasions from July through December. The population of Brook House was around 100 at a time.
Self-harm attempts have clustered around the thefts themselves. The day before a charter to France and Germany on August 25, police intervened on four occasions, including one in which a man was taken to hospital after being found in a pool of blood with lacerated wounds to the arms, head and chest.
Between August and December, 14 inmates attempted to end their lives using improvised ligatures. Two attempted to choke on plastic bags. On September 21, the day before a robbery, a man jumped from an upper floor but was caught in a safety net before trying to “push himself through the edge of the net so he could fall down. face first to the ground, ”the officers wrote.
A suspected torture survivor who attempted suicide in detention described Brook House as his “worst nightmare”. He said: “I thought that at least if I killed myself they could learn a lesson – they would listen and they wouldn’t treat others like they treated us. “
Serco warned the Home Office in monthly updates that incidents of self-harm related to the Esparto program were increasing force rates. Indeed, the proportion of detainees subjected to force by officers increased from 7% to 8% in 2018 and 2019 to 17% in 2020, according to the instructors.
Yet the Home Office has not released any detainees through the legal mechanism to identify those at risk of suicide despite guidelines allowing it. Instead, when training shortages emerged due to Covid-19, he relied on a quietly introduced loophole to keep immigration officers on duty after their training expired on the safe use of force.
Home Office guidelines typically require guard officers to take at least eight hours of refresher training each year on the safe use of control and restraint techniques, some of which can kill if done improperly. .
Expired staff “must not work as [custody officer]And their certificate is marked “invalid” on a central database, says the guide.
In March 2020, the Home Office created an “exemption”, allowing obsolete agents to remain operational until the end of September, participating in any use of force incident unless it is “planned”.
Documents reveal that officers used force against inmates at Brook House during Operation Esparto when they were out of tickets on at least six occasions. Of three of them, officers were on call – a shift supervising an inmate at risk of self-harm or suicide. For example, just after 9 p.m. on August 3, 2020, an asylum seeker – under constant surveillance after saying he would rather die than return to France – started head butting a cell window. The officer monitoring him – who checked a box on his form indicating he had not received refresher training – intervened to remove the man.
The inmate then picked up a kettle and hit his head with “several times,” according to internal reports. The kettle was pulled from the man’s outlet, but he wrapped the power cable around his neck to strangle himself. A second officer grabbed the man’s hand. She then used a technique known as a back hammer, which is likely to fall apart if misused. She also checked a box on her use of force report indicating that she had not received refresher training.
When contacted by the Observer, the Home Office did not say whether it had carried out a risk assessment of the move, or how many employees were on duty during their expiration.
“Effectively deploying uncertified agents to use force against detainees solely to achieve Home Office deportation goals is completely unacceptable,” said Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem spokesperson for home affairs. “Ministers should appear before Parliament to respond to these serious allegations. “
The disclosures included in the documents revealed other worrying allegations. Documents show how a staff member complained that a pain-inducing restraint was used on an inmate to force him to accept an ad hoc medical assessment after a planned use of force. Serco said this was done in the best interests of the inmate.
The investigation also focused on a former inmate who complained after officers placed a shield on him while he was lying motionless in bed. Reviewing reports of the incident, Caffrey said the force appeared “excessive”, which Serco denies.
The Home Office said it is reviewing reports completed by officers justifying the techniques they used. But the minutes taken at a monitoring meeting in November 2020 warned that the documents were poorly completed. The following month, officials said “accuracy” should be addressed.
Officers were also found to write that they reserved the right to change their reports at a later stage, raising concerns that they were attempting to shirk responsibility. Serco said the issue occurred following his buyout of Brook House and has since been corrected.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We have put in place a range of safeguards to protect vulnerable people, including 24-hour access to healthcare professionals, and contractors are also required to maintain our safety standards. “
But in internal email exchanges, officials seemed to acknowledge that some elements were controversial. A journalist’s request to see officers’ use of force accounts was sent for ministerial clearance, in which one official wrote to another: “I don’t need to see all the forms, but please send me those which are likely to be contentious. The answer came, ‘There are many that are.’
While not addressing specific allegations in a statement, Sarah Burnett, director of immigration operations for Serco, said: “We have provided complete evidence to show that the charges are false and that it is not There is no evidence to back them up, only incorrect assumptions and comments from third parties. “
Burnett said that since taking over Brook House, Serco has recruited 170 additional employees and established an “open and inclusive culture” where “officers behave professionally and are properly trained and certified despite the challenges faced during the Covid pandemic “.
She added: “Our officers owe a duty of care to the people in the center and only use appropriate and proportionate force as a last resort, which in many cases prevents the self-harm of detainees and, in the process. some cases saved lives.