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THE former boss of Brook House detention centre has accused the whistleblower who uncovered abuse at the site of secretly filming for the BBC for “financial gain and career progression,” an inquiry has heard.
Ben Saunders headed the then G4S-run detention centre near Gatwick from 2012 to 2017, when he resigned.
He was among 15 staff who were sacked or quit following the scandal sparked by a 2017 BBC Panorama investigation, which triggered the current public inquiry.
The programme featured footage taken by former custody officer Callum Tulley, now a BBC journalist, who decided to turn whistleblower after witnessing staff mistreating detainees on several occasions at the site.
In his witness statement to the inquiry, Mr Saunders accused Mr Tulley of approaching the BBC for “career progression and financial gain,” adding that he was “very disappointed” that Mr Tulley had not reported the alleged abuse at the time.
Asked by the inquiry counsel Brian Altman QC on Tuesday whether this was a “cop-out,” Mr Saunders replied: “No, I'm not trying to move away from my responsibility around it.
“I’m stating a fact: we had very clear expectations, we articulated them to every member of staff.
“They are certificated custody officers. They had a duty to safeguard people in their care and that included reporting.”
Mr Tully previously told the inquiry that making complaints to management at Brook House was fruitless.
Mr Saunders said he took “ultimate responsibility” for failures at Brook House, but he acted defensively when questioned on failures to identify and tackle abuse of detainees by staff.
He denied that there was a “culture of silence” that allowed some staff members to allegedly mistreat detainees without fear of being reported, and that abuse at the site was systematic.
The former G4S boss told the inquiry that he was “absolutely shocked and appalled” by scenes in the BBC documentary, which showed detainees subjected to physical, verbal and racist abuse by staff, including one guard throttling a suicidal detainee.
Asked how he was not aware of what was happening under his watch, Mr Saunders claimed it would be “difficult to spot” such behaviours.
“I was never made aware of any instances of abuse or racist behaviour, and, as I’ve said, had I been aware, then I would have taken some serious action to investigate and manage that.”
However, the inquiry heard how several staff had accused Mr Saunders of ignoring concerns raised around mistreatment of detainees by custody officers in the years leading up to the scandal.
That included two custody officers accused of dealing spice, a synthetic form of cannabis, inside Brook House and mistreating detainees — complaints that were brought to the attention of Mr Saunders as early as 2015.
However, both officers remained in their posts by the time of the BBC Panorama documentary two years later.
According to the Brook House records, a complaint against one of the officers was due to go to disciplinary but the manager responsible “forgot to do it.”
Before working at Brook House, Mr Saunders ran the scandal-hit Medway youth detention centre, where a separate BBC Panorama documentary in 2016 had revealed physical abuse of children.
The inquiry continues.
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