A BBC undercover reporter has told a public inquiry into the mistreatment of detainees at an immigration removal centre that staff mocked and humiliated a naked man.
The detainee at Brook House, near Gatwick, was distressed because he was due to be deported, the inquiry heard.
Callum Tulley became a whistleblower for the BBC’s Panorama programme during 18 months working at the centre.
The inquiry is examining bullying and physical mistreatment of detainees.
Mr Tulley said he was “shocked” at what he witnessed, describing it as a “bleak and depressing situation”.
“I still struggle to understand why they were doing what they were doing. He was a defenceless detainee. I just could not understand why he was being treated in the way he was being treated,” he said.
“He was clearly distressed. You are standing naked in front of five blokes. They’re laughing at you. They are taking the mick out of you.”
He didn’t know who had removed the man’s clothes or why.
He was told about another incident where officers “stood outside the cell of a suicidal detainee under constant supervision wearing George Michael masks and danced outside the cell whilst staring at the detainee”.
In a third incident he said officers used “uncalled for” force to take a detainee back to a cell.
Mr Tulley joined G4S in January 2015, aged 18, concerned that going to university to do a degree in physical education might leave him with large debts.
His mother spotted the job advertisement.
Mr Tulley said: “I had no idea it was a prison. My mum would never have suggested I work in a prison.”
‘Culture of silence’
Pressed on why he didn’t report what he had seen, he said the process involved going to managers, yet managers had been involved in the abuse he witnessed.
He said there was a “culture of silence” among staff at Brook House, and a “them and us” relationship with detainees.
Low staffing levels meant Brook House was “not a fit and proper or humane place to hold detainees”, he added.
One evening, shocked at the mistreatment he witnessed – first as an assistant custody officer then a detention custody officer – he began to compose a resignation letter.
He then saw a BBC Panorama investigation into a G4S youth detention centre starting on the television.
“I was watching staff members who wore the same uniform as me abusing people in their care,” he said.
“It reminded me of things I had witnessed in Brook House.”
He stopped writing the letter and instead contacted Panorama.
He was trained to be an undercover reporter by the BBC and spent a month secretly filming at Brook House.
The facility is not supposed to be run like a jail, but Mr Tulley said it was designed like a category B prison, with locked windows, doors which only open from the outside, and toilets within the sleeping area.
G4S training recommended they be called “rooms”, although Mr Tulley said they were generally called cells by officers.
He criticised the way he was told as a trainee to use inaccurate language when reporting incidents involving force.
In situations where an officer struck a detainee with a riot shield he was told this should be recorded as “I placed the shield on the detainee”.
When using a head or arm lock, the phrase recommended was “I supported the detainee’s head, or arm”.
Mr Tulley told the inquiry he didn’t feel comfortable with this sort of language as his time at the centre went on.