The Youth Justice Board has published research it commissioned in 2013 on the use of head-holds in child prisons. Twenty-two adults studying at Coventry University, aged between 18 and 24, volunteered to have their heart and lung function tested in a laboratory whilst they were subject to 12 different head-holds. The psychological impact on the students was also recorded.
The researchers recommend that children be held in as upright position as possible, since head-holds at a 70 degree angle were found to be more uncomfortable than a 30 degree angle. They also warn about the risks of children’s mouths being “held closed” during this type of restraint, and say the dangers should be emphasised in training.
In April 2004, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died whilst being subject to the ‘seated double embrace’ form of restraint then authorised for use on children in secure training centres and immigration detention. A mixed race child, Gareth had been looked after by his local authority on five separate occasions and was very vulnerable. He weighed around 41kg and was just 1.5 metres tall. The three G4S officers holding him down at Rainsbrook secure training centre ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe.
Revised government guidance has reinstated the duty on Local Safeguarding Children Boards to include a review of restraint in custodial establishments in their annual reports. These reports must be published and are therefore available to the public. Copies of the reviews must be sent to the Youth Justice Board.
The duty was included in the 2010 guidance but omitted from the 2013 version.
Two children died following unlawful restraint in secure training centres in 2004.
Fifteen year-old Gareth Myatt was forcibly held down in a seated position in the G4S-run Rainsbrook secure training centre. Officers ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe and he was dead within six or seven minutes.
Fourteen year-old Adam Rickwood hanged himself after being restrained at the Serco-run Hassockfield secure training centre. Adam had been inflicted with the “nose distraction”, a sharp blow to the nose, which Ministers eventually banned after receiving a highly critical report from the European anti-torture committee.
Despite the positive reinsertion of the duty to review restraint, the latest safeguarding guidance continues to omit any reference to restraint in its definition of physical abuse. Following the deaths of Gareth and Adam, the 2006 version of the statutory guidance acknowledged that physical abuse could include “inappropriate or inexpert use of physical restraint”. This was deleted from the 2010 document, and the two subsequent versions.
Read the 2015 safeguarding guidance here.