On the front line of the fight to control immigration, BBC Panorama goes undercover in an Immigration Removal Centre and reveals chaos, incompetence and abuse.
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This programme contains strong language from the start
and scenes which some viewers may find disturbing.
My name's Callum Tulley. Two years ago I was just another lad
trying to work out what to do with the rest of my life.
SHOUTING AND WHISTLING
Oi, lads, lads. Oi, get off him.
Then I got a job here. At a place you've probably never heard of.
It's an immigration removal centre, although it looks and feels
more like a prison.
I thought I'd be helping people facing deportation.
They're here to help you.
'But I couldn't have been more wrong.'
From the start, I was confronted with
drug abuse, self-harm and suicide attempts.
I saw some foreign criminals,
fresh out of prison, terrorising
asylum seekers who had never been inside.
And I saw some staff abusing men locked up here.
I didn't complain. I didn't think anyone would listen.
Instead, I put on secret cameras for the BBC.
I'm so angry. I don't know how people can
get away with things like that.
This is my story of life on the front line
of the UK's fight to control immigration.
I never intended to be an undercover reporter.
All I've ever wanted to be is a football referee.
No, this way...
But straight out of school - I needed a job.
Me and my mum were looking for jobs at home and she spotted
a vacancy available at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre.
Went for the job and got it.
I became a detainee custody officer
and Brook House, tucked away behind Gatwick Airport,
was a different world.
I was literally just a normal 18-year-old and after a few months
of working within the centre, I witnessed some things that probably
most 18-year-olds wouldn't have witnessed.
Just experienced a complete toxic atmosphere.
It's changed me from being a young naive boy,
not really much understanding of human suffering, into someone who
just witnesses it first-hand
and in probably some of the most horrific ways.
SHOUTING AND SWEARING
A year into the job, I told the BBC what I'd seen
and became a whistle-blower.
SHOUTING AND BANGING
Brook House is built like a prison and holds around 500 male detainees.
More than half are seeking asylum or have overstayed visas.
The others are foreign criminals
transferred here after finishing prison sentences.
Trouble can erupt in seconds...
..over the smallest thing.
The men here all face being removed or deported by the Home Office.
Most don't know how long they'll have to stay.
You've got hardline criminals who've committed some really serious
offences and then you've got people in there who have come over from
places like Sudan, Syria and
Eritrea, who are seeking asylum in the country.
How are you?
They can all be locked up together across the five wings...
Just got to relax, yeah? Don't panic.
..because the Home Office doesn't insist on segregation.
The contrast between
the asylum seekers and the migrants to the hardline criminals...
They do swarm like sharks around small fish.
They just get eaten alive. Just snapped up like that.
In Brook House, you can be put with any criminal in the same room.
Guys were, like, fighting with each other. Banging their doors.
Screaming and shouting and swearing.
And you can't do anything, just stay inside your room.
Alif Jan has been detained three times
since his student visa ran out.
He's now living in Birmingham, applying for asylum.
He was a doctor in Pakistan.
And he was working as a trainee audiologist at a hospital in London.
I felt like I'm a criminal without any crime.
Your mind is thinking,
"What will happen to me?
"What will be the outcome?" And - why I'm here.
It shouldn't be like this. The rules governing removal centres say
they should provide secure but humane accommodation,
in a relaxed, safe environment.
At Brook House, which is managed for the government
by the multinational company G4S,
detainees are let down right from the start.
On the first night, it feels to me like someone is coming
to kill me. I couldn't sleep.
My sleep was disturbed throughout the night.
The induction is in B wing, where detainees spend
the first few nights in Brook House.
They can be some of the toughest times for new detainees, especially
if they've never spent any time in prison before.
The induction wing is supposed
to help detainees adapt to life inside.
Instead, they're confronted by drugs...
..and violent ex-offenders.
A quick look at the list of detainees on the wing
shows exactly what's going wrong.
He was plucking out each card of
detainees that were involved in the drug and gang culture of Brook House
and he picked out at least eight detainees.
Then, what? Then, what? Then, what, big man?
Drug dealers and new arrivals all mixed up together.
Some of my fellow officers asked management to move the drug dealers
off the induction wing,
but when I check a month later, more dealers have arrived.
G4S says, with the knowledge of the Home Office, the induction wing is
used, when required, to hold detainees from other wings.
Drugs are everywhere in Brook House, not just on the induction wing.
HE WAILS AND SOBS
Spice, the chemical alternative to cannabis, is the drug of choice.
It's cheap and can be deadly.
There's a Spice epidemic in Brook House right now.
I'm just sick of seeing
this stuff all the time now. I've been seeing this shit for the last
two years, just constantly.
So frustrating to watch, when you're
watching it week after week.
I don't have any hope.
We see only worried faces every day.
For detainees who don't take drugs,
it just adds to the fear of detention.
Harshad Purohit was a student and care worker in the UK
and was detained after his visa ran out.
He's very timid. He's extremely polite.
I just want to go up, put my arm round him and tell him
it's going to be fine, even though I don't really know that it will be.
He's now back in India.
He was removed from the UK after nine months in detention.
In Brook House,
there too much stress and taking drugs.
I have seen so many
people there, they are suffering the health problems with Spice.
There's the effect of drugs.
They can do anything. They're going too crazy.
These drugs are banned and I just don't understand it's selling
in this Brook House.
One officer tells me drugs are coming in through the visits hall.
She says many officers aren't taking it seriously.
G4S says it has a range of measures to monitor the visits hall and has
an extensive training programme
to deal with new psychoactive substances like Spice.
Staff seem overstretched.
The wings are often run with the minimum number of officers
allowed by the Home Office.
The general morale among officers is pretty poor.
There's often two officers just left to one wing,
got to deal with over 100 detainees.
It affects the detainees massively
because there's just not enough staff.
And as a result, things are rushed.
Roll count is called incorrect.
This causes the detainees to be unlocked from their cells
late, more time in their cells.
And it just adds to what is already a very hostile environment.
All the detainees were eventually accounted for.
HE SPEAKS OWN LANGUAGE
In Brook House, if you
are, like, a nice person, very cool-minded,
you will become aggressive
because you are facing aggressive things most of the time.
The behaviour of the guys there...
And the behaviour of the staff there...
These are the two worst things.
This is one of my bosses, detainee custody manager Nathan Ring.
MAN WAILS AND CHANTS
An Iranian detainee is out of it on Spice.
It's a medical response
and my manager should be taking it seriously.
Nathan makes these situations a lot worse. He encourages staff to laugh,
he leads the way with the taunts and the mocking.
Some of the officers and managers, I don't know if that is their way of
coping with the bleakness of Brook House or if it's because they hate
the detainees and don't care what sort of state they're in.
I hear about a new arrival who officers think was forced to test
a batch of Spice by his roommate.
This is the roommate.
He has a reputation for violence.
This is the suspected drugs guinea pig.
I'm told his passport says he is 18.
G4S guidelines say the company's duty director and the Home Office
must be told by staff if a detainee claims they are under 18.
After nearly two weeks at Brook House, the boy is removed
into the care of social services.
The psalms could be seen as a critique of
institutions that just don't listen.
Move forward a few thousand years and what's changed?
Nathan Ward became a priest two years ago.
He used to be a senior manager for G4S.
The Lord be with you.
I show him my footage.
What you have there is a child in an adult prison,
to all intents and purposes.
We stopped doing that... erm, gosh, over 100 years ago.
One of the detainees allegedly was used as a guinea pig to test Spice.
This is...child abuse, isn't it?
When Nathan Ward worked for the company, he wrote
guidelines on how to deal with
detainees suspected of being under 18.
Everyone has failed in this circumstance. The immigration
officer picking him up - because the policy is very clear, that if they
suspect him to be under 18, they need to take action at that point.
The reception need to take action, who admit him into the centre,
the staff on the wings need to take action,
the Home Office needs to take action.
Everyone has failed this child.
The Home Office says his age
is in dispute, so policy on handling these cases hasn't been breached.
G4S says it can't comment on specific cases
but any age concerns are raised with the Home Office and social services.
Mate! What's that about?
Three years ago, Nathan Ward raised concerns about the behaviour
of some staff at Brook House
with the managing director for G4S Detention Services.
The vast majority were good, decent people
but there was a group that actually concerned me,
on their relationships with detainees.
It was around language that they used,
a sense of roughness and the use of force,
how force was used.
Body of Christ keep you in eternal life.
After working for G4S for nearly 13 years,
he resigned in 2014.
I left working there because, to all intents and purposes,
I couldn't cope with it any more, it's as simple as that.
This detainee, who we're calling Abbas, is 20 years old
and originally from Egypt.
He's just been transferred from prison.
I'm told he has a conviction for assault.
He's on suicide watch after trying to self-harm.
An officer called Calvin is sitting in his room.
CCTV cameras monitor Brook House but not inside detainees' rooms.
Calvin later tells me what he got up to when no-one was watching.
He's telling me how he banged the detainee's head
and bent his fingers back.
Calvin just openly confessed to assaulting detainees, in front of
officers. And it is so commonplace that it doesn't get challenged,
no-one really bats an eyelid.
This officer, hoping Abbas will swing, later told Panorama
he denies any wrongdoing.
Across the UK, there are 11 immigration removal centres,
which every year detain around 30,000 people.
The majority for less
than 28 days, but last year
more than 200 people were held for over a year.
The immigration centres were originally designed as
merely short-term holding centres.
Unfortunately the procedures have got so longwinded,
and the Home Office cannot get down to a quick day-to-day processing,
and as a result people are held in these centres for months and years.
G4S has been paid more than £100 million by the Home Office
to run Brook House, since it opened in 2009.
Back then, it was only meant to hold detainees for up to 72 hours.
I've met detainees who have been detained for years.
It can be desperate.
I thought, I'm going to get deported straightaway when my
sentence get finished.
People start telling me, I may get transferred to the detention centre.
Mustapha Zitouni came to the UK on a false passport and was
transferred to Brook House after finishing a prison sentence for
theft, assault and possessing drugs.
He was deported back to Algeria three months ago.
The detention was worse than prison. In detention centre,
you never know how long you are going to be - one day,
one year, or three or four years.
It is the waiting game,
the worst, the killer,
the waiting game, man.
That's what they do in detention.
He waited for 11 months
before being told to get ready to leave.
I was really happy, I was
really happy, I prepare everything.
My flight was seven o'clock in the morning.
It is seven, they came to me,
"Oh, sorry, your flight has been cancelled
"because the Algerian embassy did not provide the travel document."
I was expected to get free that day and see my people and my family.
Now I have to go and protest.
I filmed him staging his protest on netting
designed to prevent suicides.
He thought he was going home.
He has razor blades.
A lot of people had sympathy for this guy because he's happy to go
back. He's on the netting and he's protesting. He's got razor blades
and is a risk to staff and himself.
Staff aren't allowed on the netting
unless a detainee is in immediate danger.
A specialist team, called the Nationals,
is called in to get him down.
They used a spray to subdue him.
The next day, Mustapha is calmer but still frustrated.
Yeah, I know what you're saying. I know what you're saying.
Mustapha had expected to be deported as soon as he finished his sentence.
Deportation straight from prison
was suggested to the Home Office nearly 20 years ago.
I recommended when anyone was sentenced to be deported,
that that deportation should be processed while they were in prison,
so that at the end of their prison sentence
they were taken straight to the airport and out.
It could be done, if ministers had willed it to be done.
It's common sense.
While Mustapha was on the netting,
Brook House staff were on stand-by, ready to deal with him.
G4S restraint trainer John is supervising.
When I ask him for advice, he tells me to use racist language.
We wait in a stairwell for several hours.
One of the officers said,
"You shouldn't be able to get away with this."
And that was when John Connolly just went off on one.
John was saying that if this detainee
wasn't going to go voluntarily,
that we drag him into this corner and we'd fuck him up.
We don't get called in. I'm relieved they don't get the chance
to attack Mustapha.
Mustapha has travelled across the border from Algeria to Tunisia.
He's agreed to meet a BBC crew.
He doesn't know I've come to show him my undercover footage.
Hey, hey, you are fucking joking!
-How are you doing?
-What are you doing here?
-I've come to see you.
Oh, fuck. This is not G4S.
-No, not G4S.
-How are you doing, man?
-Good to see you.
-So, erm, when I was in Brook House...
..I was wearing secret cameras, I was wearing hidden cameras.
-I remember you with suit track...
"You guys, you want to come to the gym, yes?"
-It's good to see you.
-Good to see you too, man.
How does it make you feel knowing
that whilst you were protesting on the netting...?
It's not surprising anyway, you know,
I had that shit, you know, face-to-face.
They say it in front of me, you know what I mean?
They treat us as animals.
They have to watch those officers and what they're doing.
You know what I mean?
Not, like, just let them do what they want.
I don't want to remember that shit, man.
I'm lucky I'm free, man, and I feel
sorry for guys in detentions.
We're getting kitted up in riot gear
for a deportation. The detainee doesn't want to go.
I was going to be the shield officer. The person who is first in
the cell during a restraint, he has the riot shield in hand
and he places it onto the detainee if necessary.
The detainee has a history of violence and a conviction
for attempted murder. But I'm also worried about his health.
Just to make me that little bit more nervous,
I was told that this detainee had a number of operations
on his heart. He had suffered from a heart attack in the past.
Two experienced officers, called Dave and Yan, are less concerned.
One officer said, "If he dies, he dies."
I didn't want to kill this guy,
I didn't want to harm this man.
I just wanted to go in there and do the job.
He's desperate not to be deported back to Romania.
Such a stressful environment to be in
because you never know what could happen.
You fear the worst in that situation.
I thought then that was the end of it. We'd seen the back of this guy.
And I didn't have to worry about seeing him again. But I was wrong.
Later that day, I see him in the visitor area.
That's him with his back to me.
I met other detainees in Brook House who can't be deported because
they're challenging Home Office attempts to make them leave.
It can take a long time.
Some of their cases are difficult to resolve.
This detainee, who we're calling Paul, came to the UK when he was six
and doesn't want to be deported to Somalia, where he was born.
His permission to stay in the UK was revoked when he was convicted
of burglary and drug offences.
The UK is the only country in the European Union
which doesn't put a specific time limit on immigration detention.
Some people are being held for years.
Should there be an end?
Yes, for everyone. I mean, it's
either staying here or going home. There's got to be an end. You can't
keep people in detention forever.
-You getting your hair cut?
All detainees can apply for bail,
so they can fight their cases outside detention.
The remaining detainee with heart problems, who wasn't deported,
has a hearing tomorrow.
Two days later, I go to his room.
Oh, jeez. Oh, my days.
-Oh, look at his clothes!
-Yeah, I know.
I went into this cell...
and there was blood all over the floor,
over the bedsheets, over the shower curtains.
In the corner of his room, there was just blood-soaked clothes
just lying there.
His bail application had been refused.
I speak to the detainee after he comes out of hospital.
Stick your arm out, let me see, let me see.
He's committed some horrific crimes, he isn't a nice guy,
but we're in a situation where staff are literally having
to drag him to an airport, where he ends up coming back from anyway.
He applies for bail, he self-harms.
It's twisting him up on the way,
staff are becoming disturbed as a result of his actions.
Paul, the detainee who was born in Somalia,
has just been told he's about to be transferred
to another removal centre.
Staff rush him.
He's moved later the same day.
I don't know what will happen to him.
Want to take a seat?
I show my footage to a psychiatrist, who's a leading specialist
in the effects of detention.
It's, from a clinical point of view, not at all surprising that
this man is enormously distressed by the length and indefiniteness
of his detention. The chances of not being adversely affected
mentally by prolonged and indefinite detention are very low.
At Brook House last year, there were 53 cases of detainees
needing medical treatment for self-harm.
There are another 451 who are detainees judged to be at risk
of hurting themselves.
Detainees very often talk about that notion of being somewhere
where you are confined, where you have very little control,
very little choice over anything, over what happens in your day.
That lack of control, I think, is an important part of the distress
that leads to worsening mental health.
I have to make sure all the detainees have eaten.
I have a checklist to tick.
This detainee hadn't eaten his lunch, so I went to his room
to ask him, you know, "Why haven't you eaten?"
He was refusing to eat because he wasn't happy about
being in Brook House.
Refusing food is one way the men at Brook House protest
about their detention.
Last year, 316 cases were recorded.
I think it could be more than that.
I'm on duty again with detainee custody manager Nathan Ring.
I tell him the detainee won't eat.
He tells me to say the man has eaten, when he hasn't.
The recording of food refusal ought to be
the start of finding out a bit more.
It's extremely serious because food refusal may be indicative of
poor mental health and it may cause deteriorating physical health,
in extreme form, even be fatal.
Later, I'm still worried, so I raise it again.
I think with a lot of officers, you do see them become desensitised.
Because it just becomes the norm.
It's something you do and you witness every single day at work.
People can't cope and hand in their notice, but others,
they do become immune to the pain and suffering that they see,
and then some actually turn to the other side
and actually take part in the abuse.
An officer is shouting at a detainee who has mental health problems.
This is E wing, where vulnerable detainees can be held in rooms
on their own. They should be closely monitored and given support.
The detainee is so ill that he was taken to a psychiatric hospital
two days later and sectioned.
The Home Office says, "Policies introduced last year
"strengthen the presumption against detention for particularly
"vulnerable people, whilst improving the diagnosis and treatment
"of mental health conditions."
The detainee who's shouting is on medication
and has threatened to harm himself.
It's a stressful situation.
Oh, fuck's sake, man.
But that's no excuse for how the officers treat him.
The people behaving in this way seem to be attributing
his behaviour to wanting to annoy them, rather than entertaining
the possibility that it might be
because of the underlying mental illness.
They are going to punish him, they're going to show their contempt
for him. That is extremely bad for anyone, but it's even worse
for someone that they know is mentally ill.
There's an emergency on A wing.
A detainee's tried to kill himself.
Seeing things like this is upsetting for detainees and officers.
The first attempted suicide I was called to stays with me to this day.
I went to bed that night and didn't sleep.
And then nightmares start to happen, it replays back in your mind.
I was signed off with a stress-related disorder
for about two and a half weeks.
When you know you're a cog in the machine that has made
him feel that level of desperation, the impact that you're having
on the lives of these people...
..it is difficult.
I'm back on E wing, where vulnerable detainees can be held.
I see Abbas, the 20-year-old Egyptian
who an officer told me earlier he'd abused.
He's got something round his neck.
ABBAS GULPS AND STRUGGLES FOR BREATH
That sound is Abbas choking.
Get down, mate, get down.
It's a mobile phone battery.
Detainee custody manager Nathan Ring is on scene.
Another opportunity to mock a detainee.
This nurse has also been called in.
Along with detainee custody officer, Yan Paschali.
Manager Nathan Ring leaves me to watch Abbas.
What happens next is the most distressing treatment of a detainee
I see during my time undercover at Brook House.
He's trying to strangle himself with his hands.
Don't do it, don't do it, mate!
Yan comes in to help and holds his head to my left.
ABBAS BREATHES HEAVILY
Yan basically stuck both of his fingers into his neck
and he was pushing so, so hard, I could hear the detainee
trying to gasp for breath.
I actually thought Yan was going to kill him.
I said to Yan, "Yan, easy, easy."
After the violence, more mocking.
ABBAS CRIES HYSTERICALLY
Other officers monitor him. I'd seen enough.
Just that place is...
I don't know how people can get away with things like that.
You've got in one sense a perfect storm here, haven't you?
You've got a physical restraint going on,
which is dangerous in itself,
you've got a nurse who just thinks the man is an arse
and you've got a member of staff strangling him.
The risk of life is enormous. I feel sickened by it.
People should serve a prison sentence
for what they're doing there.
If I hadn't been filming,
it's possible no-one would know what had happened to Abbas.
C&R is control and restraint and involves the permitted use of force.
Home Office rules say the use of force should be documented, but Yan,
the officer who could have killed Abbas, doesn't want that to happen.
Even the nurse appears to be going along with it.
She's reading from her notes but mentions nothing about
the restraint, even though she'd been in the room when it happened.
Later, in the staff room, Yan tells me I need to toughen up.
Yan Paschali later told Panorama he couldn't think of anything
he'd done that would get him into any trouble.
It's too simple just to look at the individuals.
Even though their actions are deplorable,
we'd need to look at the people that have put these people in place
and allowed them to do what they've done.
I blame the Home Office for allowing G4S to get away with these excesses.
People have got to work out what is needed
to put a system in place
which really can be A, humane,
B, decent, and C, quick.
The Home Office says the dignity
and safety of those in its care is of the utmost importance,
and they regularly and closely monitor Brook House.
It says the detention of people without the right to
remain in the UK who've refused to leave voluntarily is key to
maintaining an effective immigration system.
It says it's already ordered a review into the welfare
of detainees in immigration detention.
Ten people have been suspended as a result of my investigation.
After Panorama contacted G4S, it said
once it has seen my evidence, it will take appropriate action.
It says any such behaviour is not representative of the many
G4S colleagues who do a great job,
often in difficult
and challenging circumstances,
and that it investigates all complaints
and has confidential whistle-blowing channels for staff and detainees.
Brook House was inspected last year
and told it was reasonably good and making excellent progress.
From the inside, that's not what I saw.
I'm illegal immigrant and I shouldn't be in UK at first place.
I don't have problem with that. Brook House, you know, they...
I'm not saying to close it down
because they need places like that,
but the thing is, they have to change their policy, you know?
That's not fair, to keep people for months and months and months.
They have life exactly like anyone else, you know?
To miss one day in society, you never have it back.
Please keep prison people different
and detention people in different centres. Please.
If you want to detain some period, please keep very small time,
not too much.
I think two weeks, six maximum, but more than two weeks
very bad for every candidate.
I have a great fear to be detained again.
I don't know what was the strategy to be detained and then released.
I think immigration policy are...
I can say it doesn't work properly.
It should be changed.
Nine days after he was choked by Yan Paschali,
the Egyptian detainee is in the suicide prevention netting.
Some staff think he's unhappy about washing up.
But I know what he's been through.
After all that, two months later,
Abbas's roommate tells me he's now been released.
So, it was my last day, my last shift at Brook House.
I've waited for this moment for such a long time and I can't believe
that I'm never going to have to go back, I genuinely can't.
I'll only be able to get closure from that place if we can make
it better, if we can make a change, and change needs to happen there.
On the front line of the fight to control immigration, BBC Panorama goes undercover in an Immigration Removal Centre and reveals chaos, incompetence and abuse. The centre is a staging post for detainees who face deportation from the UK. It is a toxic mix, and detainees who have overstayed visas or are seeking asylum can share rooms with foreign national criminals who have finished prison sentences. Some have been held in the privately run centre for many months, even years. The covert footage, recorded by a detainee custody officer, reveals widespread self-harm and attempted suicides in a centre where drugs, particularly the synthetic cannabis substitute spice, are rife. Many officers do their best to control the chaos, but some are recorded mocking, abusing and even assaulting detainees.