Category: Institutional child abuse

Parliamentary probe about serious child abuse in Derbyshire hospital

The Government has confirmed that no decision has yet been taken about a serious case review into allegations of very serious child abuse in Aston Hall hospital, in Derbyshire, across the 1960s and ’70s.

An investigation by the Derby Telegraph newspaper led to 39 former patients, many of them children at the time, going public with their allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, by March 2016. Others are reported to have taken their own life because of the systemic abuse.

Running away to escape family abuse and behavioural difficulties after bereavement were among the reasons children were admitted to the hospital. There are consistent reports from former patients, some as young as 11, that the hospital’s lead doctor, Kenneth Milner, drugged, placed them in a padded cell and sexually assaulted them. Milner worked at the hospital between 1947 and 1975. He died a year later. Before working at Aston Hall, he had been employed at Rampton and Broadmoor secure hospitals.

Yesterday, in response to a parliamentary question from Liverpool MP Louise Ellman, the Department of Health responded:

“We are aware that a number of serious allegations have been raised about abuse that took place at the former Aston Hall Hospital during the 1960s and 1970s. Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the local provider of mental health services, advises that an investigation is currently underway by a partnership of agencies, including health services and the police, co-ordinated through the Derbyshire Safeguarding Children’s Board.

“The timescales for any system-wide Serious Case Review or Learning Review will depend on the outcome of current police enquiries.”

The law requires that a serious case review be established whenever a child has died or been seriously harmed and abuse or neglect is known or suspected, and there are concerns about the way agencies worked together.

Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s safeguarding team can be contacted for support on 01332 623700, extension 31537.


Tonight’s BBC Panorama exposé showed children being treated appallingly by male officers working at G4S-run Medway secure training centre. The programme showed footage of:

  • Officers deliberately escalating incidents so they could (in their minds) justify restraining/assaulting children
  • A child being restrained through pain and excessive force, and being unable to breathe
  • A child being held down on the ground, inflicted with painful restraint holds and taunted
  • Officers casually using restraint techniques which involve the infliction of severe pain and have been authorised only for extremely grave situations (long before this programme, numerous bodies, including the UN Committee Against Torture and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons said such methods should be prohibited)
  • An officer throwing a hard punch to a wall/window and then jumping quickly in front of a child to frighten him
  • An officer recalling a restraint incident when a child complained he was suffocating. The officer laughed and mocked the child whilst sharing his story with colleagues, including “He was sitting there nearly in tears”
  • An officer boasting he had assaulted a child with a fork (thrusting it into the boy’s leg)
  • A child subserviently acquiescing to an officer who forced him to repeat, then shout out “Arsenal are shit”, even though this is the boy’s football team
  • Officers using foul and insulting language to describe children, for example “fat little pr**k” and “fat little sh*t”
  • Officers discussing how to hit a child, and how they had hit children, including “I was straight in slam”, “kicked in”, “I’m just going to hit him. Fact.” and “[I] properly tried to break his skull”
  • Officers recounting how G4S misrepresents incidents to government, in order to avoid fines.

There was footage of G4S officers (male and female) discussing how to fabricate restraint records, and then fabricating a report on camera.

The undercover reporter worked in G4S Medway for two months, between October and December 2015, on a variety of shifts.

Article 39’s Director says:

“The programme was unbearable to watch at times, because it involved witnessing very vulnerable children being subject to serious physical and mental abuse. The children were completely powerless, locked in cells with heavy doors after they had been mistreated, shaking and crying.

“The value of undercover reporting is that officers, including those at senior levels, have no idea they are being watched by individuals who do not share their value system or condone their cruelty. This may give a clue as to why Youth Justice Board monitors and independent advocates were seemingly unaware of the abuse and malpractice. It also reaffirms that regular inspections can never alone ensure children are well looked after. As for children raising concerns, where would they begin, and why should they trust adults in authority after this?

“BBC Panorama has proven to the nation that children have been seriously mistreated in G4S Medway. It is now up to Ministers to close the institution, and to establish an independent inquiry into the care and protection of children in prison.”


Winterbourne View: lessons for children’s institutions

With the news that BBC Panorama plans to broadcast its programme on Medway secure training centre* this coming Monday (11th January), it’s worth reflecting on an earlier investigation into abusive restraint and other cruelty. Depending on the content of the programme, of course, might we expect the same level of concern and action for children?

Winterbourne View was a private hospital, near Bristol, for 24 adults with learning disabilities. Its owner, Castlebeck Ltd, charged £3,500 a week for each patient, irrespective of their individual needs.

Covert filming
An undercover reporter filmed covertly at the hospital, after the complaints of a senior nurse had been ignored. The BBC reports:

“During five weeks spent filming undercover, Panorama’s reporter captured footage of some of the hospital’s most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased.”

“Undercover care: the abuse exposed” was aired on 31 May 2011.

Vulnerable individuals
A serious case review commissioned by South Glocestershire Safeguarding Adults Board interviewed five former patients of Winterbourne View, finding they had previously lived in residential special schools, children’s hospitals and foster care.

Simone was one of the young adults who featured prominently in the Panorama programme. Simone lived at home until she was 17, after which she began having very distressing headaches which affected her behaviour. In the second hospital she was placed, Simone’s parents were not allowed to stay: Mencap reports Simone “was so frightened that she broke a bed, and when moved to a side ward, she tore the basin off the wall”. She was moved two more times, before arriving at Winterbourne View.

Aged 18 at the time, Simone was shown on the Panorama film being viciously abused by a member of staff, Wayne Rogers. Rogers was seen pinning Simone under a chair, slapping her and twisting her wrist and pinning it to the ground. He taunted and humiliated her.

Prison links 
Rogers was found to be the ringleader of the abuse at Winterbourne, and boasted to colleagues about previously winding up children, before restraining them, during his time working in a young offender institution. He was given a two-year custodial sentence after admitting nine counts of ill-treatment.

Eleven members of staff were sentenced for cruelty to adults living at Winterbourne View, six receiving jail terms. Two of the 11 had formerly worked for the prison service – Wayne Rogers and Jason Gardiner, who had been a prison officer for 11 years.

Hospital closure
Winterbourne View closed on 24 June 2011, less than a month after the Panorama programme was screened.

Reactions to Panorama exposé
There was widespread public shock and condemnation of the abuse exposed by Panorama, and a great deal of action was taken by local and national agencies to strengthen the rights and protection of people with learning disabilities in residential care.

Legislation was introduced in 2014 which extended local authorities’ duties to arrange independent advocates for individuals suffering, or at risk of, abuse or neglect. Government restraint guidance issued to adult health and care settings that same year established that restraint should be used only to prevent harm to human beings (and there must be a real possibility of such harm); and no planned or intentional restraint must involve a person’s face being held/pressed to the floor or any other surface.  At the end of 2015, the government promised more action on a Charter of Rights, to make sure people know about their rights and how to access support.

Some notable reactions at the time from government, politicians and concerned individuals and organisations are summarised below.

Government & opposition
The day after the Winterbourne View programme aired, the government minister then responsible for care services, Paul Burstow MP, said:

“The abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View uncovered by Panorama is shocking. There can be no place for such inhumanity in care services.

“There have been failures of inspection and adult protection which have exposed people to appalling abuse.

“I am determined to strengthen the system of safeguarding to protect vulnerable adults from abuse.”

Days later, the then shadow health minister, Emily Thornberry MP, asked an urgent question in Parliament and pressed for an independent inquiry.

Local MP
Jack Lopresti, the local Conservative MP, called for the hospital’s closure and an independent inquiry:

“I will be meeting with the chief executive of Castlebeck shortly to suggest that the company permanently closes Winterbourne View at the earliest opportunity.

“I am also calling for an independent inquiry into why such serious failures occurred and what lessons can be learnt to ensure the abuse at Winterbourne View Hospital never happens again.

“I believe that a truly independent inquiry is needed to restore the public faith in the care system.”

Concerned individuals & organisations
The chief executive of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities wrote in the Guardian newspaper the day after the programme was broadcast. The charity urged a government review of legislation and inspection, and “a thorough police inquiry into the actions of the individuals and the organisation involved”. The chief executive of Mencap was asked to assist the Department of Health in reviewing the evidence of abuse collated by the Care Quality Commission (responsible for regulation and inspection of private hospitals) and local councils.

A letter was sent to the Prime Minister three weeks after Panorama aired, from 86 concerned individuals and organisations. It gave detailed advice on the actions required by local and national agencies to protect the rights of people with learning disabilities.

Conclusions of serious case review
The serious case review for South Glocestershire Safeguarding Adults Board was given a wide remit, though it was restricted to the time period 2008-2011. Its 150+ page report sums up the great risk of single agencies never seeing the full scale of institutional abuse:

“The review has demonstrated that the apparatus of oversight was unequal to the task of uncovering the fact and extent of institutional abuse at Winterbourne View Hospital. Taken section by section, this Serious Case Review builds a bleak collage of the phenomenon of institutional abuse. That the whole is greater than the individual sections is no cliché.”

It is difficult to gain a full picture, over time, of individuals’ care and treatment in institutions “when information about concerns, alerts, complaints, allegations and notifications are either unknown or scattered across agencies”, the review concluded.

TEENAGE PRISON ABUSE EXPOSED will be broadcast on BBC One on Monday 11 January, 20.30.

*Medway secure training centre is a prison for children aged 12 to 17. It is run by G4S under a government contract.

Sexual abuse in child custody and residential schools

The Goddard Inquiry has announced that the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, and the sexual abuse of children in residential schools, will form two of its first 12 investigations.

The scope of the custodial investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, including Secure Children’s Homes, Secure Training Centres, Youth Offender Institutions, and their precursor institutions (‘custodial institutions’). The investigation shall incorporate case specific investigations and a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and previous investigations in relation to the abuse of children in custodial institutions.”

Medomsley detention centre, in Durham, will be one of this investigation’s case studies. Run by the Home Office between 1961 and 1987, Medomsley detained 17 to 21 year-olds. The first reports of physical abuse emerged in 1967, when a mother contacted her local MP. Today, Durham police is investigating 1,240 complaints of abuse by former inmates.

The scope of the residential schools investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse in residential schools, including schools in the state and independent sectors and schools for children with disabilities and/or special educational needs. The inquiry will incorporate case specific investigations, a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and investigations, and a consideration of the Inquiry’s own commissioned research.”

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, comments:

“We very much welcome the inclusion of custody and residential schools within the Inquiry’s first investigations. There is so much to be acknowledged about the abuse of children in these environments. The investigation on sexual abuse in custody is particularly significant because this will involve robust, independent scrutiny of the actions – and inactions – of those working in central government, including within the prison service.”     

Institutional child abuse investigations in nearly a quarter of councils

Article 39 has found that investigations into past abuse in council-run children’s homes are taking place in 24% of local authorities. We obtained the data through a freedom of information request to all English local authorities. Of 75 local authorities that answered the question, 18 were aware of investigations into past abuse in children’s homes or other residential establishments currently or formerly run by them.

The request was made as part of our research into child abuse and neglect occurring in children’s homes, residential schools, mental health inpatient units, prisons and other institutional settings. Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, says:

“It is heartening that so many adults are now coming forward to report childhood abuse. But organisations that run institutional settings today need to be sure that children are able to freely raise concerns and that abuse allegations against staff and managers are treated no less seriously than reports of mistreatment by family members.”

We included the finding in our submission last week to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is due to take evidence from UK officials next year. We make 30 proposals for improving the care and safety of children in institutional settings today, including a single contact number through which children can access local authority child protection teams, like the 101 police number, and a national review of safeguards for children living away from home, to ensure consistent rights protection.


  1. A freedom of information request was made to all 152 local authorities in England in May 2015. By the time of the UN submission on 01 July 2015, 118 local authorities had replied. Of these, 75 answered the question about investigations into past institutional child abuse in children’s homes and other establishments presently or formerly run by them. 18 local authorities said they were aware of such investigations in their area and 57 said they were not aware of any such investigations.
  2. Article 39 was officially formed in April 2015. Its Director is a registered social worker and longstanding children’s rights campaigner. Article 39 trustees have extensive experience in children’s law and advocacy, the care system, human rights and child and youth participation. Sir William Utting CB is our Patron. Former chief inspector of social services, Sir William was appointed in 1996 by the then Prime Minister, John Major, to undertake a review of safeguards for children living away from home amid revelations of widespread abuse in children’s homes over the preceding 20 years.
  3.  Article 39 takes its name from the part of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which entitles children who have been abused, neglected or exploited to recover in environments where their health, self-respect and dignity is nurtured.
  4. The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in December 1991. One of its legal obligations is to provide periodic updates to the UN on the extent to which children’s rights are upheld across the country.
  5. The Convention on the Rights of the Child grants special protection and assistance to children deprived of their family environment.
  6. The submission to the United Nations can be downloaded here.