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PRIVATE security firm G4S could get immunity from prosecution for any crimes that its representatives admit to when giving evidence to an inquiry into alleged abuse at a detention centre for migrants.
The attorney-general today requested “wide-ranging” legal requests known as “undertakings” so evidence given by witnesses during the course of the inquiry would not be used against them in criminal proceedings.
The company used to run Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick Airport, where mistreatment of detainees was uncovered by a BBC Panorama investigation in 2017.
The documentary, which allegedly showed G4S employees mocking, assaulting and racially abusing detainees, prompted a judge to order Britain’s first public inquiry into immigration detention.
At the online preliminary hearing, G4S representative Daniel Isenberg said the firm sought an undertaking from the inquiry that would give both individual employees and “legal” witnesses – meaning companies – protection from any evidence they give, whether oral and written, being used in a future criminal trial.
Mr Isenberg said that co-operative witnesses need immunity to prevent the inquiry proceedings experiencing “further delays down the line.”
But Stephanie Harrison HQ, representing two former Brook House detainees, argued that the scope was excessive.
“We, of course, recognise the right against self-incrimination … but we say those individuals should be able to ask for it on an individual basis and that the form of the undertakings that are being proposed at the moment are too wide.
“It is important that they are confined to natural persons and not legal or corporate entities.
“It would be wrong and send out the wrong message to the public that any criminal conduct is being either not properly investigated or condoned by the giving of such undertakings.”
The inquiry seeks to determine what mistreatment took place at Brook House between April and August 2017, when the Panorama footage was recorded, and to investigate allegations of “systemic and institutional” abuse.
Deborah Coles, director of the campaign group Inquest, said: “As the first inquiry into immigration detention following countless exposés and scandals showing abuse, this inquiry is long overdue and vitally important.
“Close scrutiny must be paid to the ill-treatment, including racial abuse, of detainees at Brook House for changes to be made to prevent such mistreatment in the future.”
A G4S spokesperson said: “G4S fully supports the Brook House inquiry and we will play an active role in helping to address its aims.”
Selen Cavcav, senior caseworker at INQUEST, said: “Holding those responsible to account for the appalling abuse of power in Brook House is essential for those directly mistreated, and is also in the public interest.
"Any undertakings sought would need to be done in the most limited and confined circumstances. Individual and systemic wrong doings will need to be investigated in an open and transparent way.
"Anything less than full candour and honesty will suggest to the public that the appalling abuses of power seen at Brook House is condoned and tolerated by the authorities.”
Another preliminary hearing will be held on November 30, focusing on the scope of the inquiry.
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