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The lock-in regime

  1. Before and during the relevant period, detained people at Brook House were locked in their cells from 21:00 to 08:00 every day, and during two daily roll calls, each lasting approximately 30 minutes.1)
  2. This lock-in regime had a detrimental impact on detained people, which was likely exacerbated by the poor conditions in cells (discussed in Chapter D.3 of this Report). Several detained people described how lock-ins damaged their mental health.2 Others described the lock-in regime as oppressive, “humiliating” and “really hard to cope with.3 For D1538, it made him feel like a prisoner, while the feeling of being trapped in a small space reminded him of his experiences before coming to the UK.4 D1618 said that he “suffered a lot” during lock-in periods, as this was when his “mental health symptoms were particularly bad”. He would be scared and would struggle to sleep, with “nothing to do other than think about what might happen to me and about my fears of being returned to Afghanistan”. He described lock-ins as “the hardest time of each day”.5
  3. The harshness of this regime was flagged during the procurement process prior to the opening of Brook House.6 As recognised in 2007 by Home Office staff assessing bids to manage Brook House, the 11-hour lock-in was “a desperate attempt to reduce costs at the expense of welfare.7) Those assessors also noted that the lock-in period was:

“excessive and not in keeping with the ethos of the rest of the estate … The proposals give no justification for such a lengthy period of non- association.”8

Nonetheless, the contract awarded by the Home Office (which G4S did not seek to vary) included a lock-in of 11 hours.9

  1. Concerns about the length and timings of the lock-in period were also raised repeatedly by HMIP.

38.1 In its report following a March 2010 inspection, HMIP referred to the 11-hour lock-in period as being “longer than in most other IRCs” and the 21:00 start as “inappropriately early. It recommended that Brook House reduce the length of the lock-in period and institute a later lock-in.10

38.2 This recommendation was repeated by HMIP in its reports following its September 2011 and May–June 2013 inspections.126 The latter report also queried “why detainees needed to be locked in their rooms at all”.11

38.3 In its report following an October–November 2016 inspection, HMIP described detained people being locked in their cells overnight as “inappropriate”.12 It recommended: “Detainees should not be locked in cells and should be allowed free movement around the centre until later in the evening.”13

  1. The Home Office failed repeatedly to engage adequately with the issues at the heart of these recommendations. In response to the three earliest reports, the Home Office stated that the lock-in regime timings were determined by the G4S contract and changing the timings would require additional resourcing.14 It rejected the 2016 recommendation, stating:

At Brook House open access to the centre’s regime is provided for all detainees between 8 am and 9 pm each day. Detainees are only confined to their rooms overnight.”15

  1. Dr Hindpal Singh Bhui, Inspection Team Leader at HMIP, told the Inquiry that this was “deeply unimpressive”.16 He noted:

“there are several reasons normally given. One is security. It means that, overnight, if detainees are locked in cells, it means that they can’t come out and there needs to be less staff around to supervise … the obvious response to that will be to say, have more staff who are able to supervise, and then you can maintain security without locking people up overnight … it is, fundamentally, a staffing issue.”17

  1. Although not deployed in response to any of the HMIP recommendations, in December 2018 the Home Office introduced the Detention Services Order 04/2018: Management and Security of Night State (the Night State DSO). This suggests that a night state or lock-in:

“creates a clearly defined day/night routine and offers detainees the opportunity to rest in a quiet and private space in contrast with the constructive activities available during the day time”. 18

Given the issues identified in 2007 during the procurement process, I think it is likely that this explanation for the lengthy lock-in regime is an attempt retrospectively to justify a situation that was understood to be unjustifiable at the outset.

  1. In reality, I consider that one of the drivers of this highly restrictive regime was financial.19 Variations to the G4S contract could have been sought by either party, if necessary. This would have been likely to require increased staffing and therefore increased costs for G4S as well as a demand for further Home Office funding. I consider that the lock-in regime up to and during the relevant period conflicted with Rule 3 of the Rules, which requires as much freedom of movement and association as possible.20
  2. The 2019 HMIP inspection report stated that “detainees spent too much time locked in their cells” under ‘Key concerns and recommendations’.21 HMIP repeated its recommendation that “detainees should not be locked in cells and should be allowed free movement around the centre until later in the evening”. The response by G4S asserted that lock-in arrangements had been agreed with the Home Office and “assessed as balancing the need to maintain safety and security with the dignity and welfare of detainees”.22 G4S referred to the forthcoming reduction, from May 2020, of the period during which individuals would be locked in their cells overnight by two hours.23 In my view, this nine- hour period remained excessive.
  3. In August 2020, the High Court ruled that the lock-in regime operated at Brook House under G4S’s management was neither unlawful under general public law provisions nor in breach of Articles 5, 8, 9 and/or 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.24However, this Inquiry did not consider the lawfulness of the regime, but instead looked at its impact on detained people’s experience at Brook House.
  4. HMIP concurred in its 2022 inspection report, maintaining that a ‘key concern’ was that

“Detainees were inappropriately locked in cells overnight. They could have been left unlocked if they had been given a key to their cell and if there had been sufficient staffing at night.” 25

The response from Serco did not properly engage with the recommendation, noting simply:

“Staffing levels have been agreed with the Home Office in line with the new supplier contract which has decreased the period of time a resident is locked within their room since Serco were awarded the contract.” 26

  1. Detained people in Brook House are subject to the administrative process of immigration detention and are not in prison under a criminal justice procedure. This is reflected in the purpose set out in the Rules.143 Even if the Home Office seeks to justify the lock-in regime as providing a quiet place for rest at night, I agree with HMIP that the practice at Brook House of locking adults in cells was a “disproportionate restriction for a detainee population”.144 Similar lock-in regimes were in operation at other IRCs, although there was no uniformity regarding the duration or nature of the lock-in.27
  2. Detained people were and continue to be locked in their cells overnight for an excessive period of time. They are not prisoners and are entitled to as much freedom of movement and association as possible. Any time during which they are locked in their cells must be justified by the strongest reasoning. I am therefore recommending this practice be reviewed, to allow greater free movement.
Recommendation 6: Review of the lock‑in regime

The Home Office, in consultation with the contractor responsible for operating each immigration removal centre, must review the current lock- in regime and determine whether the period of time during which detained people are locked in their cells could be reduced.
The Inquiry does not consider cost alone to be a sufficient justification for extensive lock-in periods.


  1. DL0000174_007 para 17. The lock-in period could be longer when the roll count was wrong (INQ000064_042 para 9.4; INQ000051_031 para 13[]
  2. DL0000094_012 para 74; DL0000228_044 para 157; DL0000233_006-007 paras 28 and 35; DL0000229_030 para 112[]
  3. DL0000226_021-022 paras 75-76 (D2077); BHM000018_005 para 22 (D1713); BHM000029_005 para 17 (D2158[]
  4. DL0000231_007 paras 31-32[]
  5. INQ000055_004-005 paras 21-24[]
  6. DL0000140_069; DL0000140_078-079; see also Chapter D.2[]
  7. DL0000140_069. This echoes a point made by Reverend Nathan Ward (DL0000141_036 para 108[]
  8. DL0000140_078-079[]
  9. HOM000916_180; DL0000140_052; DL0000140_062; DL0000140_065; DL0000167_052[]
  10. DL0000167_052 para 6.5; DL0000167_055 para 6.29[]
  11. HMIP000311_016 para S23[]
  12. HMIP000613_016 para S8[]
  13. HMIP000613_027 para 1.49; HMIP000613_053 para 5.23[]
  14. DL0000270_065 para 92; DL0000007_190; DL0000007_195[]
  15. VER000116_007[]
  16. Dr Hindpal Singh Bhui 24 March 2022 175/4-7[]
  17. Dr Hindpal Singh Bhui 24 March 2022 176/2-11[]
  18. Detention Services Order 04/2018: Management and Security of Night State, Home Office, December 2018, para 3; see also DL0000082_007-009[]
  19. Dr Hindpal Singh Bhui 24 March 2022 175/2-11[]
  20. Philip Schoenenberger 23 March 2022 16/7-17/15[]
  21. HMIP000674_005; HMIP000674_020 para S46; HMIP000674_028 para 1.46[]
  22. CQC000026_004[]
  23. SER000226_137 para 1.3.1; CQC000026_004[]
  24. R (Soltany & others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and G4S [2020] EWHC 2291 (Admin)[]
  25. HMIP000702_006 para 10[]
  26. HMIP000704_003[]
  27. R (Soltany & others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and G4S [2020] EWHC 2291  (Admin), paras 117-124[]