Article 39 calls for inquiry and legal help for children, following abuse allegations at G4S child prison

Article 39 has today (25 October 2021) written to the Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, calling for an inquiry into the alleged abuse and human rights violations of children living in G4S-run Oakhill secure training centre. The move comes after a whistleblower contacted the charity last month, alleging: serious child abuse over a protracted period of time; in-house investigations of mistreatment rather than the local authority conducting enquiries as required by the law and statutory guidance; and officer corruption. Article 39 further requests that the Justice Secretary sets out within 14 days the immediate steps taken to keep children safe and to prevent further human rights violations.

A letter has also been sent to G4S’s director of Oakhill secure training centre asking her to pass on a letter to children and their parents and carers, and youth offending team workers and social workers if they have one. The letter explains every child’s right to seek legal help if they have been mistreated in the institution.

Following contact from a whistleblower, a social worker with 40 years’ experience, Article 39’s Director wrote to Milton Keynes Council’s Director of Children’s Services on 24 September, setting out a list of very serious allegations. That letter was copied to Ofsted’s Chief Inspector and the Chief inspector of Prisons, together with the Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. This followed previous attempts by Article 39’s Director, dating back to 2019, to persuade the national safeguarding panel to establish a review of safeguarding arrangements for child prisons. Prior to sending the 24 September letter, Article 39’s Director made enquiries to see whether an impending inspection was planned for Oakhill.

A week after our charity’s letter, and seemingly in response to the allegations listed in our correspondence, inspectors returned to Oakhill on 4-8 October. This inspection resulted in an urgent notification being issued which confirmed some of the allegations we had communicated. Not all of the very serious allegations we communicated to Milton Keynes Council and the inspectorates were addressed in the urgent notification letter, however.

The urgent notification, published on 14 October 2021, states that:

  • Children have been subject to unlawful use of force
  • Conditions in this child prison “barely met minimum standards of human decency” during the summer
  • Child protection concerns have been investigated internally by G4S, rather than referred to the local authority as required by statutory guidance (and the law)
  • Children have access to “adult content channels via their in-room televisions”

The whistleblower came to us because they were not confident that their very significant child protection concerns were being taken seriously by G4S, the Youth Custody Service, the local authority designated officer or the prison’s advocacy service. 

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“We are immensely grateful to this whistleblower for contacting Article 39 to raise very serious concerns about child protection. This is not an easy thing to do, given the potential impact on present and future employment.

“So far it appears the inspectorates have acted quickly in response, but inspection reports do not, on their own, protect children. Yet again, it appears there have been systemic and serious failures to protect detained children and their fundamental rights. The first priority must be to ensure children are safe and that they are receiving appropriate help to start their recovery from any abuse, including independent advice and assistance from lawyers. Then a wider, statutory inquiry is required to probe why mistreatment happened, why it wasn’t stopped earlier and what safeguards are required to protect children deprived of their liberty in future. This is necessary to satisfy the government’s positive obligations under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to protect detained children from inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Relevant documents

– The urgent notification issued by the inspectorates, dated 14 October 2021, can be found here.
– The monitoring inspection report (following a visit on 13 September 2021), published 11 October 2021, can be found here.
– Freedom of information data obtained by Article 39 showed Oakhill secure training had highest number of allegations of abuse and neglect, reported on our website in January 2020 here.

PLEASE NOTE: at the time of writing, the report from the 4-8 October 2021 inspection has not yet been published.