The Howard League for Penal Reform has again slammed the Tories’ preferred prisons privateer G4S following the scandal revealed by the BBC Panorama programme on child abuse at Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent on Monday.
After the broadcast of the programme, three G4S employees were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of child neglect. The three were among four ‘team leaders’ at the Medway Secure Training Centre, in Rochester, who G4S sacked on Tuesday.
The arrests followed the undercover filming by Panorama at the 76-bed centre, which is for ‘young offenders’ aged 12 to 17. G4S receives £140,000 of taxpayer’s money per year for each of these incarcerated children. Among the allegations uncovered by Panorama and now subject to investigation are that G4S staff:
• Slapped a teenager several times in the head
• Pressed heavily on the necks of young people
• Used restraint techniques unnecessarily – including squeezing a teenager’s windpipe so he had problems breathing
• Used foul language to frighten and intimidate – and boasted of mistreating young people, including using a fork to stab one on the leg and making another cry uncontrollably
• Tried to conceal their behaviour by ensuring they were beneath CCTV cameras or in areas not covered by them
Panorama included footage of violent incidents involving staff that took place away from the view of CCTV cameras. ‘All I asked you to do was clean this fucking door and you aint!’ shouted a G4S officer to a 14-year-old boy in BBC’s Panorama investigation.
Billy is a troubled 14-year-old boy. He stands at the door of the classroom, shouting. Moments later, a burly officer storms into the room. He shouts in the boy’s face and then grabs him, pushing him on to a table, twisting his arms behind his back, and calling for others to help.
As a second officer arrives, Billy cries in pain: ‘Aaarrgh, I can’t breathe … Aaarrgh, what are you doing?’ The senior officer has his fingers on the boy’s throat. This was only one of several scenes of child cruelty revealed in footage recorded by an undercover reporter for Panorama.
In other scenes, a boy is goaded and attacked by an officer because of the football team he supports. Another boy, who has self-harmed, is subjected to unlawful violent restraint on the anniversary of his mother’s death.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ‘Watching this programme made me cry. The deliberate cruelty against children was one of the most upsetting things I have seen in this country. Shocking also was the institutionalised fraud being perpetrated to cover up that abuse.
‘The children in Medway must be found other places within the next few days because this institution is rotten to the core. The contract should then be rescinded. The government ought to explore whether G4S should repay the taxpayers’ money it has received in the last few years. It has been paid to look after children and it has failed.’
The Howard League has warned for years about the systemic problems in secure training centres. The centres were introduced in the late 1990s alongside the Detention and Training Order, a short prison sentence for children followed by supervision in the community.
Frances Crook said: ‘Both the secure training centres and the sentences designed to put children in them were flawed from the start. Over the years we have seen enough problems at the secure training centres to confirm that they are failed institutions for a failed sentence.’
In April 2004, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died from choking on his own vomit while being restrained in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire. Four months later, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham.
An inquest later found that he had been unlawfully restrained and this had contributed to his death. In 2012, a High Court judge ruled that the unlawful use of restraint had been widespread in privately-run secure training centres for at least a decade.
The Howard League legal team has dealt with numerous concerns raised by or on behalf of young people at Medway dating from at least 2008. The team has also worked with adults who were detained there as children and who have raised concerns about their treatment.
Children at Medway who have been assisted by the Howard League legal team include:
l A 14-year-old boy, who was restrained on numerous occasions, the use of force amounting to an average of more than once a fortnight over the relevant period.
The Howard League submitted complaints to the secure training centre and the Youth Justice Board monitor. Despite numerous requests, the charity was never provided with CCTV evidence of the incidents. In response to the complaints, the Youth Justice Board eventually agreed that the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman ought to investigate the issue. The Howard League awaits the final investigation report.
• A 16-year-old girl, who said that she was poked and called names, including foul language, by staff who forced their way into her room. She had placed a mattress against the viewing panel while on a constant watch. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral, which was investigated.
• A 17-year-old boy, who reported having been restrained for refusing to leave the dining area. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral and complained to the Youth Justice Board monitor on the boy’s behalf.
• A 15-year-old boy, whose mother contacted the Howard League. She said that staff had taken him into his room, where no cameras were, and hit him about the head. The charity made a safeguarding referral.
• A 16-year-old asthmatic boy, who complained that, while he was in education, he was restrained by staff who squeezed his head and neck, causing him to fall to the floor. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral.
Invariably the Howard League’s complaints are not upheld, often because of a lack of CCTV evidence corroborating the child’s version of events. In August 2013, the Howard League wrote an open letter to the then Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, outlining that the complaints system in place for secure training centres was ineffective and not sufficiently independent.
For years the Howard League and others have warned of abuse of child inmates in secure training centres. Now the BBC’s Panorama programme has caught it on camera. ‘So what happens next?,’ asked the Howard League following Monday’s broadcast.
‘Some of the most troubling scenes in the documentary showed institutionalised fraud being perpetrated to cover up the abuse. Three G4S officers are filmed concocting a story to justify the assault on the grieving boy.
‘Children in Medway are not safe, and other places must be found for them within days. Then, G4S’s contract to run this rotten institution should be rescinded. Enough is enough. We don’t need further reviews or vague promises that lessons will be learned.
‘It is time for ministers to rescind G4S’s contract and explore whether this toxic company should repay the taxpayers’ money it has received in recent years. It has been paid to look after children and it has failed.’
• Last Wednesday 6th January 2016, in a parliamentary debate on Israel’s military detention and arrest of Palestinian children, Louise Haigh MP condemned G4S, which provides equipment and services to Israeli prisons where Palestinian children are held in detention.
She highlighted the Tory government plan to ban local authorities from divesting from companies complicit in human rights abuses. Israel currently holds around 6,800 Palestinians as political prisoners, including 470 children.