An inquiry into abuse at Brook House detention centre is welcome – but it’s the system itself that’s the problem

 The abuse I saw as a manager there does not spring up at random. It is endemic to a system that dehumanises the 25,000 people it locks up indefinitely each year

Nathan Ward
The Independent Voices


Detention centres like Harmondsworth, near Heathrow airport, are part of a system deemed ‘slow, unfair and expensive to run’ ( AFP/Getty )

In 2017 brave undercover reporting by Callum Tulley and BBC’s Panorama exposed the appalling abuse of people taking place at Brook House Detention Centre. As a former senior manager at the centre I took part in the film and spoke about the mistreatment I saw. As the High Court has now reminded us all, these detention centres are places where the erosion of the rule of law is particularly likely, and particularly dangerous.

The Panorama documentary showed staff assaulting and racially abusing those held in detention. Staff mocked people suffering with mental illnesses – and boasted about it to other staff. One member of staff is heard on camera saying, “If I killed a man, I wouldn’t be bothered.”

During my time at the centre I made multiple complaints about staff behaviour, all of which were ignored. What I learned during that time is that the problem is greater than any individual incident, and that firing a few staff members won’t stop the exploitation that happened at Brook House being repeated time and again at other detention centres. Abuse like this doesn’t spring up at random. It is the inevitable product of a system which dehumanises the 25,000 people it locks up without a time limit every year.


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