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Language barriers

  1. A large proportion of people detained at Brook House did not have a good understanding of English, creating additional difficulties during their detention.1 D2077, for example, referred to the fear of not knowing what was going to happen to him, as he did not speak the same language as “the guards”, and to his anxiety about people speaking English around him.2 Professor Bosworth considered that language barriers were a “key contributing factor to the anxiety and frustration of the detained population.3 There was an average of 30 different languages spoken at Brook House.4
  2. The G4S contract stated that a fellow detained person could be invited to interpret where communication was part of a general conversation, but other instances required the use of interpreters or computer software.5 Staff were able to use telephone or in-person interpreters via language services companies (LanguageLine or thebigword) to communicate with detained people who did not speak English.6) The report of the Independent Monitoring Board at Brook House (Brook House IMB) for the reporting year 2017 recorded 150 to 300 LanguageLine calls made each month, with the majority used by Healthcare, Reception and the welfare office.4 Ms Jacqueline Colbran, Chair of the Brook House IMB during the relevant period, thought that DCMs were “very good” at using LanguageLine.7 There may, however, have been a lack of awareness among some staff of the services they could use. DCO Daniel Small, for example, told the Inquiry that he was not aware of a telephone translation service and would use Google Translate on a computer in the IT suite or library. He said that otherwise he would not be able to communicate with people who did not speak English.8
  3. Professor Bosworth noted that staff did not seem to use the telephone translation service in everyday interactions. Instead, they relied on other detained people as translators or the use of dictionaries.9 She also found little evidence to suggest that most staff spoke languages other than English, unlike at other IRCs.10 Her view was that interactions with staff often depended on a detained person’s ability to speak English.
  4. There were a number of consequences for detained people as a result of language barriers.

17.1 Understanding and communicating generally: Day-to-day impacts of language barriers included detention paperwork not being translated, detained people not understanding their induction, and detained people seeing others struggling to understand their situation and being unable to communicate.11 D1876 said that he was rarely provided with an interpreter and, when he was, many of them were “not good” and would not allow him to communicate fully. He had to find other detained people to interpret for him, reducing his privacy and sometimes requiring him to pay them.12 In 2019, HMIP found that there was not enough use of professional interpreting by Reception staff and observed new arrivals being interviewed without interpreters when they did not understand the questions they were being asked.13

17.2 Healthcare: Communicating about health issues and with medical professionals was a particular difficulty. Some detained people said that they never had an interpreter when speaking to healthcare staff.14 It was also difficult to communicate complex issues and accurately convey all of the details.15 D2158, for example, found it difficult to communicate with the doctor during Rule 35 interviews, even when a telephone interpreter was used. He told the Inquiry that the interpreter did not sound fluent in his language and appeared to be struggling to understand him.16 Ms Christine Williams, Clinical Lead at Brook House, acknowledged that interpreters were not always readily available for healthcare appointments, leading to appointments being rescheduled.17 She also said that some interpreters did not know the medical terms being used.18 Yet Ms Karen Churcher, a Registered Mental Health Nurse, said that interpreters were nearly always available within two to three minutes of calling.19

17.3 Complaints: D2953 made numerous complaints about having been hit by a staff member. His English language skills were “not good ” and, on several occasions, he did not have the use of an interpreter. As a result, his allegations were not clearly understood by staff.20 When he did have the use of an interpreter, he was able to convey that he had been punched.21 While complaint forms were provided in multiple languages, the Brook House IMB’s forms were available only in English and required people to write in English, which the Brook House IMB accepted was a barrier.22 (This was the case at the time of the relevant period and continued at least until the Inquiry’s hearings.) In 2019, HMIP observed that G4S’s complaint responses were written in templates, making them especially difficult to understand for those with little English.23

17.4 Communicating with visitors: There were no telephones in the visits area to enable the use of telephone interpreters and there was no Wi-Fi to facilitate electronic translation. Mr Jamie Macpherson, a Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group visitor, told the Inquiry that he visited an Iranian man who spoke no English and spent an hour with a dictionary picking out odd words.24 However, Ms Colbran said that she personally never had a problem speaking to someone at Brook House because, if she could not use her own language skills to speak with a detained person in a language other than English, the detained person “would almost always have a friend” who would translate for them.25

  1. This evidence suggests that language barriers reduced the ability of detained people to interact with staff, access healthcare, make complaints and communicate with visitors. Insufficient steps were taken by G4S during the relevant period to reduce these barriers, and there was an over-reliance on informal translation. Such language barriers contributed to conditions where poor treatment was more likely to occur.
  2. In June 2022, the Home Office introduced Detention Services Order 02/2022: Interpretation Services and Use of Translation Devices (the Interpretation and Translation DSO). This recognises that:

“Entering detention, changing detention locations and/or being in a detained environment can be a stressful time for individuals. It is the responsibility of Home Office and supplier staff operating in these facilities to take all reasonable steps to ensure that all processes and communications between staff and the detained individual are fully understood.”26

The Interpretation and Translation DSO therefore makes clear that in-person or telephone interpretation services should be used for all essential interactions where accuracy is of significant importance. The use of other detained people for translation should be limited to general questions and non-essential interactions, with the agreement of all parties.

  1. However, in its report following a May–June 2022 inspection, HMIP identified that application forms for health appointments and medicines information were available only in English and only 63 per cent of those with no understanding of English said that interpreters were used during healthcare assessments.27 Detained people who were interviewed identified concerns that staff could be dismissive or not interact well with detained people, particularly those who did not speak English.28 A substantial number of detained people did not know how to make complaints or were not confident in doing so. This was particularly the case for people who did not speak fluent English.29 On the other hand, HMIP noted that the welfare team made good use of interpretation and that there was good provision of health and wellbeing information in different languages within the Healthcare department.30


  1. In 2013, 29 per cent of detained people surveyed by HMIP said that they did not understand spoken English and 36 per cent said that they did not understand written English (HMIP000613_82). The figures in 2016 were 18 per cent and 30 per cent respectively (HMIP000613_072). In 2019, only 55 per cent of survey respondents answered yes to ‘Do you understand either spoken or written English very/quite well?’ (CJS0073825_089[]
  2. DL0000226_031-032 paras 120-123[]
  3. Professor Mary Bosworth 29 March 2022 17/5-6[]
  4. VER000138_011 para 5.2[][]
  5. HOM000798_012 para 1.1.5. This was also reflected in the G4S Single Equality Policy, which noted that “Any detainee may translate for another on a voluntary basis … detainees do not have to translate if they do not wish to do so” (CJS000705_037-038); see also SER000455_039 para 115[]
  6. Anton Bole 8 December 2021 163/1-20. For healthcare matters, LanguageLine was to be used for confidential interpretation or an interpreter was to attend (HOM000798_057 para 6.1.3[]
  7. Jacqueline Colbran 25 March 2022 88/15-16[]
  8. Daniel Small 28 February 2022 124/16-125/9[]
  9. INQ000064_037 paras 7.14 and 7.15; TRN0000026_005-009; TRN0000031_006-007[]
  10. Professor Mary Bosworth 29 March 2022 16/12-15; INQ000064_036 para 7.12[]
  11. BHM000029_004 para 12; DL0000229_016-017 paras 62-66; DL0000229_019-020 para 73; DL0000229_020 para 74; DL0000229_021 para 79; DL0000229_022 para 83; DL0000229_022-023 para 85; BHM000039_008 para 40[]
  12. DPG0000039_008-010 paras 32-39[]
  13. CJS0073825_020 para S42; CJS0073825_023 para 1.6[]
  14. DL0000149_009-010 para 34; DL0000149_027 para 80; DL0000229_016-017 paras 62-66; DL0000229_019-020 para 73; DL0000229_020 para 74; DL0000229_021 para 79; DL0000229_022 para 83; DL0000229_022-023 para 85[]
  15. DL0000231_005 paras 20-21; DL0000231_008 paras 36-37; CJS007239_001[]
  16. BHM000029_007 para 24[]
  17. Christine Williams 10 March 2022 93/16-94/12[]
  18. DWF000020_019 para 106[]
  19. DWF000003_011-012 paras 78-80[]
  20. HOM032609_002; see also HOM032609_011; CJS001506_033 para 7.1.5; Chapter D.10 and Chapter C.10 (in Volume I) regarding D2953’s complaints more generally[]
  21. HOM032609_013[]
  22. CJS000705_037; Mary Molyneux 25 March 2022 110/16, 111/21[]
  23. CJS0073825_035 para 2.17[]
  24. Jamie Macpherson 8 December 2021 207/12-210/3[]
  25. Jacqueline Colbran 25 March 2022 88/2-11[]
  26. Detention Services Order 02/2022: Interpretation Services and Use of Translation Devices, Home Office, June 2022, para 5[]
  27. INQ000227_032 para 3.19; INQ000227_035 para 3.40; INQ000227_038 para 3.60[]
  28. INQ000227_064-065[]
  29. INQ000227_066[]
  30. INQ000227_015 para 1.32; INQ000227_035 para 3.37[]