‘Rampant and sustained’ abuse of children in UK prisons – comment by The Guardian’s Eric AllisonPosted: February 3, 2016
Abuse of children in STCs has been going on far too long, writes the Guardian’s prisons correspondent
I expect many readers will have watched BBC’s Panorama programme ‘Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed’ on Monday 11 January.
Panorama sent an undercover reporter to work as a custody officer at Medway Secure Training Centre (STC), Kent. I was involved in the making of the programme and was not the least bit surprised when the reporter, who carried a hidden camera, recorded scenes of staff gratuitously abusing the young people in their care.
I have been on the case of STCs for around seven years and my files are full of horror stories, none of which, until now, we were able to prove. Because, of course, nobody listens to the kids brave enough to report abuse.
I was shocked at one scene, though: a 15 year old who had a history of self-harm, being assaulted by a member of staff. The boy had lost his mum when he was seven and the assault took place on the anniversary of her death. Staff were seen boasting of their thuggery to other officers, clearly confident there would not be a whistle-blower among their colleagues.
Medway STC is run by G4S, who also run the other two, Rainsbrook and Oakhill. Although they are losing the contract to run Rainsbrook in May, after a truly damning inspection report in February 2015.
Rampant and sustained
Following the programme, G4S put out a statement saying they had sacked four staff members and suspended three more. They also made much of the fact they had passed the allegations of assault by staff over to Kent police. In other words, they were saying that the abuse was down to ‘a few bad apples and we are throwing the book at them’.
In response I would say that, firstly, they were obliged by law to call in the police and secondly, my research into STCs has convinced me that abuse of children has been rampant and sustained. It has become part of the culture and, until now, staff and management have been adept at covering it up.
But post-Panorama, the floodgates have opened. Former STC trainees are coming forward to report abuse. And now the spotlight is on the issue, those charged with overseeing the detention of children, the Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board, will have no alternative but to investigate the allegations that are coming thick and fast.
One of the most glaring and commonplace abuse of power is the unlawful restraining of children for non-compliance, that is, not doing as they were told (- does any child?). Many of the former residents of STCs who have come forward say they were restrained for non-compliance on a regular basis.
Pre-Panorama, we knew G4S had blood on their hands. In 2004 15 year-old Gareth Myatt was restrained by three custody officers at Rainsbrook STC, Northants. He was 4ft 10” tall and weighed six and a half stone. One of his assailants, David Beadnall, weighed 16 stone.
During the restraint, Gareth told staff he could not breathe. He was told: “If you can talk you can breathe,” and the restraint continued. As they held him down, Gareth choked on his own vomit and died.
Following Gareth’s death, Beadnall was promoted to the post of Safety, Health and Environmental Manager at G4S Children’s Services.
In 2012 the Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE) brought a high court action against the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). They asked Mr Justice Foskett to order the MOJ to release the names of children who had been unlawfully restrained in STCs. Eventually, the judge found against CRAE and the names were not released.
But in his judgement, Foskett said it was likely many children had been unlawfully restrained in STCs and suggested that justice could be achieved through victims of unlawful restraint coming forward. He said:
“It probably requires just one former detainee, looking back at his or her experience in an STC and having conducted the necessary preliminary inquiries, to pursue a well-publicised claim and others will be alerted to the potential of pursuing matters.”
In 2014, London solicitors Bhatt Murphy brought an action on behalf of 14 children who had been unlawfully restrained in STCs between 2004 and 2008. Between them, they were awarded damages amounting to £100,000. G4S, Serco (who ran Hassockfield STC, which is now closed) and the Youth Justice Board paid a third of the damages each.
Anyone reading this who has been in an STC and believes they were unlawfully restrained, may consider going down the legal route to claim damages.
Under STC rules, restraint can only be used in the following circumstances. If a detainee is:
a) Escaping from custody, or attempting to do same,
b) Injuring his/her self, or others,
c) Damaging property,
d) And/or inciting anther trainee to do any of the above.
The abuse of children in STCs has been going on for far too long. The Panorama programme and the follow-up stories may help to put a stop to it.
The thugs and the corporate giants who make huge profits from the abuse of children must be brought to book.
This article is reproduced, with thanks, from the forthcoming issue 249 of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, out February/March 2016