Deadly State Violence Against Children Exposed

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A MANUAL obtained by a children’s rights charity under Freedom of Information laws reveals details of extremely violent restraint and so-called distraction techniques for use on children held in Security Training Centres (STCs).

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) is now demanding a total ban on ‘the use of restraint techniques that aim deliberately to cause physical pain and humiliation’. It is also demanding ‘a judicial public inquiry under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights to investigate the extent to which children’s rights to protection from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment have been upheld in STCs’.

In a statement, the Children’s Rights Alliance said that it made ‘a Freedom of Information request to the Youth Justice Board on May 10 2007 for a copy of the Physical Control in Care manual’ on the use of restraint and staff ‘self defence’ techniques in Secure Training Centres.

The CRAE continued: ‘STCs are privately-run child prisons in England. They can hold a maximum total of 301 children:

•‘Oakhill in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, can hold up to 80 children aged 12 to 17

• ‘Hassockfield in Consett, County Durham, can hold up to 58 children aged 12 to 17

• ‘Rainsbrook in Rugby, Northamptonshire, can hold up to 87 children aged 12 to 17

•‘Medway in Rochester, Kent, can hold up to 76 children aged 12 to 17

‘Children in STCs are held in houses of eight children. The Youth Justice Board (YJB) reports that there is a ‘High staff to young people ratio, but lower than secure children’s homes’.

According to the YJB’s own information, STCs house ‘vulnerable young people who are sentenced to custody or remanded to secure accommodation’.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England received pages 1-59 of the Physical Control in Care (PCC) manual in June 2007.’ Almost three years later: ‘Pages 60 to 119 of the Manual were disclosed to CRAE with redactions on May 13 2010.’

This happened during Information Tribunal proceedings, in which the YJB was appealing against an order by the Information Commissioner in December 2009 that it should disclose the manual in full to the CRAE.

A full, unredacted copy of the manual was finally delivered to the CRAE on last week, on July 13, after the YJB had withdrawn its appeal.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England said: ‘A lot of the Manual contents are deeply disturbing and must be read in context. Restraint and the use of force can only be justified in law if the individual circumstances show that it was a genuine last resort.

‘Part of the consideration has to be the age, vulnerability and circumstances of individual children. Being locked up is by its very nature evidence of vulnerability.’

The CRAE said it was ‘particularly anxious about the impact of these revelations on children and families’.

The charity said: ‘We understand that this information could be especially distressing for a child expecting a custodial sentence, and his or her family, as well as those held in STCs now . . . There is no escaping that the inquests into the deaths in 2004 of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt and 14-year-old Adam Rickwood painted a very bleak picture.

‘Last year, Carol Pounder, the mother of Adam Rickwood, successfully brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court to seek a new inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of her son. Those proceedings found widespread unlawful use of restraint preceding Adam’s death.

‘A more recent review established by the former Government, conducted by Andrew Williamson and Peter Smallridge, also found evidence of unlawful use of force. It reported to Ministers in June 2008.

‘Anyone concerned about the safety and welfare of a child held in a STC should contact their local children’s services or the NSPCC.

‘If you believe a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm you can request that social workers conduct enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. Any enquiries under this part of the 1989 Act must include ascertaining and giving due consideration to the child’s wishes and feelings.’

The CRAE said the manual it has obtained ‘includes restraint and staff self defence methods authorised for use at least from 2005. The YJB said in its accompanying letter to CRAE that this was the Manual in force at the time of our Freedom of Information request in May 2007. We were not aware that a revised manual had been issued and we have submitted a new set of FOI requests to clarify this.’

The outcry over the deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood has led to a ‘dramatic’ cut in the number of times that very painful ‘distractions’ have been used on children in STCs, according to figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests and Parliamentary Questions.

The CRAE said: ‘Figures obtained by us showed that they were used 768 times resulting in 51 recorded injuries in 2004/05. The latest data released to Parliament shows a massive decrease, with apparently only 12 uses (all thumb “distractions”) throughout 2008 and none at all in the first three months of 2009.’

But the CRAE added: ‘We have no information about the actual use of the shocking self defence methods described in the newly disclosed sections of the Manual. We are working closely with cross-party Parliamentarians, in the Houses of Commons and Lords, to urgently obtain this information.’

Detailing some of the manual’s contents, the CRAE said that Pages 1-7 include a ‘brief background to the PCC training’ and ‘the principles of PCC’.

Pages 8-15 include a summary of the law, including human rights legislation, ‘relating to restraint and the use of force’.

Pages 16-25 summarise ‘how staff may feel and react when feeling threatened and under stress’.

Pages 26-27 include ‘a table indicating the reasonable response options for different children’s behaviour, from “passive resistance’’ (“trainee offers no resistance but refuses to comply with reasonable requests or direct orders’’) to “threat to life’’.’

Pages 28-30 set out ‘the obligations of staff to write a report after each use of force incident’.

Pages 30-35 set out ‘the potential dangers associated with restraints’.

The background section explains: ‘A number of adverse effects are possible following the application of restraints. These include being unable to breathe, feeling sick or vomiting, developing swelling to the face and neck and development of petechiae (small blood-spots associated with asphyxiation) to the head, neck and chest. This advice sheet serves to remind staff of the dangers of restraint and signs of impending asphyxiation’.

Pages 36-37 include a table depicting the possible impact of blows to particular areas of the body and the ‘medical implication’.

The text preceding the four rows shaded in red states: ‘In the most extreme circumstances, the following areas may be targeted, however staff must be able to justify their actions. The medical implications of blows to the “neck and throat area’’, “head’’, “eyes’’ and “groin’’ – all shaded in red – include “Fracture to the skull’’ “Blurred vision’’ and “Temporary or Permanent Blindness caused by rupture to eyeball or detached retina”.

‘In relation to the Neck and Throat area, the table notes: “Pressure or blows to the throat may cause asphyxiation due to bruising of the windpipe. Death can occur very quickly . . .’’ ’

Continued tomorrow.