Category: Secure training centre

Prison officer not guilty of misconduct in child prison

A prison officer charged with misconduct in public office was found not guilty last week. The jury took just 20 minutes to acquit him.

The case raises questions about G4S child prison in Medway, Kent, possibly continuing to flout the law on the use of physical restraint with vulnerable children.

Prison officer Alexander Williams was alleged to have thrown a 15-year-old boy against a cell wall before pushing him onto his bed. The boy said the officer, a former rugby player and personal trainer, then pressed his forearms into his throat. The incident was alleged to have happened in September 2013, and was investigated by police once they heard BBC Panorama was unearthing serious child abuse in the prison.

In January 2016, a BBC Panorama programme showed children seemingly being subject to serious physical and emotional abuse. Months later the prison was transferred from G4S control to the prison service.

Kentonline reports:

The teenager said other staff members were shouting because Mr Williams “went too deep”.

“Normally they give you a little punch in the face,” he said. “If other staff weren’t there he would have killed me. I promise you now I would not be here.”

Apparently the boy “was told to go to his room” and a female officer activated ‘first response’ – where other officers rush to assist with an incident. Children in the past have reported that prison officers habitually used first response in secure training centres and that it invariably led to the use of physical restraint, irrespective of whether a child was posing any danger or not.

Kentonline further reports:

Other staff members felt Williams had overreacted, rather than use approved techniques. Later, Mr Crowhurst [a colleague] challenged Williams about it, but he pushed his hand away and called him a “p***y and a ****”. Mrs Crowhurst [another colleague] reminded him Elliott was only a child and he was aggressive to her also.

A nurse later found the teenager to be angry. He punched the window in his room. He was upset and distressed.

After the deaths of two children in secure training centres run by G4S and Serco respectively, it was discovered that officers employed by the companies had been unlawfully restraining children for many years.

The law states officers can restrain children only when there is no other way of preventing a child: escaping; injuring himself or others; damaging property; or inciting another child to escape, injure or damage property.

The Youth Justice Board’s response at the time was to press for a change in the law that would permit officers to use force on children to make them obey orders. This was achieved by a change to statutory rules in 2007. However, the Court of Appeal quashed those rules in 2008, finding they risked breaching children’s right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment.

Kentonline’s report indicates the boy in this incident may have been restrained outside the law:

“All I remember is I am saying: ‘Why am I going to my room?’ I don’t know if I am grabbed but I am slung into the wall.

“I haven’t grabbed anyone’s shirt or tie. I am being thrown into the wall and then I am being pinned down. That has happened for no reason, because this has happened to me before.

“I have been assaulted in this place more than once. I could name four occasions. It isn’t how misbehaved you are, you always get restrained.

No complaint was made by the boy because he didn’t believe it would amount to anything. Alexander Williams stopped working at the children’s prison the year after the incident, and went to an adult prison in Rugby. He now teaches control and restraint to prison officers.

In January 2012, a year before this incident, the High Court found that G4S and Serco secure training centres had been unlawfully restraining children probably from their inception (1998 onwards) to at least July 2008. Foskett J noted in his judgment:

[It is] a legitimate comment that until the deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, and the investigations and inquiries that resulted from those deaths, none of the agencies in place to monitor what took place within an STC had identified and/or acted to stop the unlawful nature of what was happening.

Article 39’s Director Carolyne Willow said:

“The description of the incident echoes hundreds of others I have read and heard over the years, where at the centre you have a panicked and frightened child asking why they are being overpowered and shouting out for help. If this child was restrained simply to get him into his cell, this could point to G4S continuing to run an unlawful restraint regime years after the Court of Appeal ruling. That would be devastating.”

G4S back under the spotlight

Last night (4 September), BBC Panorama broadcast disturbing footage of adults being subjected to physical, emotional and psychological abuse in Brook House immigration removal centre at Gatwick Airport, London.

Nine G4S officers have been suspended.

G4S continues to run the centre.

The abuse scandal follows a similar exposé of serious mistreatment in a child prison, Medway secure training centre, run by G4S between April 1998 and July 2016. That programme was broadcast in January 2016 and led to the suspension of 11 officers and a major police investigation, called Operation Woodley.

Although G4S was deemed unfit to continue looking after children in Medway secure training centre – it was taken over by the prison service in July last year – the UK Government continues to pay the company to look after detained vulnerable children in two child prisons (Oakhill secure training centre and Parc juvenile young offender institution) and in Gatwick pre-departure accommodation (part of Tinsley House immigration removal centre). Children are occasionally also held in Brook House immigration removal centre.

In May this year, Article 39 submitted a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice to probe when G4S stopped being paid to run Medway secure training centre, and to ask for a copy of G4S’s improvement plan for the child prison prior to the prison service taking over its management.

Yesterday we heard the Information Commissioner’s Office had asked the Ministry of Justice to respond to us on 11 August.

We have still not received a response.

This is what we asked:


Children still unsafe in Medway secure training centre

An inspection report published today reveals that children remain unsafe in Medway secure training centre, 17 months after BBC Panorama broadcast harrowing footage of serious physical and emotional abuse.

Inspectors visited Medway secure training centre in March. Twenty-nine children were detained there at the time (the Youth Justice Board pays for 67 places).

The prison was taken from G4S management in July 2016, following the Panorama abuse revelations. For the second time in a year, Ofsted judged safety in the prison to be inadequate, and assessed the institution to be inadequate overall. It reports:

  • Since the last inspection (June 2016), there were five separate occasions when a child had complained of being unable to breathe during physical restraint. Inspectors report that investigations into these incidents, undertaken by a national team within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, frequently found “poor practice of staff and managers at Medway in particular poor incident management”.
  • At the time of the inspection, 16 children were subject to a “restricted regime”, where they could not leave their cells for education, join others eating in the dining room and they were allowed only 15 minutes in the open air a day.
  • The policy governing staff observing children in their cells, because they are at risk of self-harm and suicide for example – “through glass blocks built into the walls” – was flouted in various ways, including by managers not overseeing its use. On the last day of the inspection, a directive was circulated to staff stating this surveillance of children was no longer permitted.
  • Inspectors found “significant weaknesses in the governance of use of force, predominantly caused by a shortage of minimising and managing physical restraint (MMPR) coordinators”. Body-worn cameras were still not switched on during use of restraint, and footage is “rarely available” at internal meetings held to review the use of force on children.
  • Debriefs with children “are not always carried out” – a child protection measure instituted after inquests into the 2004 restraint-related deaths of 14 year-old Adam Rickwood and 15 year-old Gareth Myatt.
  • One quarter (24%) of children surveyed said they had felt unsafe in the prison.
  • Following the Panorama programme in January 2016, it was agreed that all concerns should be reported to the local authority’s designated officer, which is consistent with statutory requirements. However, Ofsted reports this “has left a legacy of arrangements that are not satisfactory or compliant with statutory guidance. Clear processes and procedures have not been re-established between the centre, the local authority and public protection police specialists about safeguarding referrals and management of ongoing processes. This has led to delays in concerns being investigated and forensic and other evidence not being captured or reviewed promptly”.
  • 98 complaints from children were recorded by the prison, though inspectors question whether this is an accurate figure. They also highlight that some children were given feedback on the outcome of their complaint even before the matters were fully investigated. Others received no feedback at all.
  • Only 4% of the children surveyed (n=24) said they would turn to an advocate if they had a problem. This was the lowest recorded on the list. ‘Family’ gained the highest response, with 54% of children saying they would turn to them if they had a problem.
  • 18% of children said they had wanted to make a complaint but didn’t because they were worried about what might happen to them.
  • 68% of children had a visit from family, carers or friends at least once a week. This means more than a third of children did not have weekly visits.
  • A flat available for families to stay in overnight, having travelled long distances to visit their child, had been used just once since the last inspection.
  • Children have telephones in their bedrooms (unless their are safety concerns). During “approved times”, they are allowed one free call a day (the report does not state the duration of these) and incoming calls of unlimited duration. Ofsted report: “A number of relatives spoken to were very positive about this and said it helps to reassure them that their child is OK”.

Article 39’s Director Carolyne Willow said:

“Ministers must call time on the false optimism that this prison, and safeguarding mechanisms around it, can be made safe for children.

“Inspectors have rated the institution inadequate twice in a year and the local authority’s response to safeguarding concerns continues to be deficient, with inspectors reporting a failure to follow statutory guidance. One quarter of children surveyed said they had felt unsafe there. This is intolerable from a child protection perspective and the prison must close.”

Serious case review into former G4S child prison

The BBC has reported that a serious case review has been launched into the abuse of child prisoners in G4S child prison, Medway secure training centre.

In January 2016, BBC Panorama broadcast disturbing footage of children being physically and emotionally abused by officers. The then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, established the Medway Improvement Board, which made a series of recommendations for improving the care and protection of children. The prison was transferred from G4S to the prison service in July 2016.

At the end of February 2016, G4S announced it would be selling its children’s business. This has not yet happened. It continues to run another child prison, Oakhill secure training centre, and several children’s homes. It also runs a prison unit for children attached to an adult prison in Wales. Last week, the Guardian newspaper reported that the Home Office plans to hand the contract for safeguarding children’s welfare in immigration detention to G4S. The children’s charity Barnardo’s formerly held this contract.

Article 39 has consistently pressed for a serious case review into the systemic abuse of children in Medway secure training centre. We provided evidence to the Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board of unsafe and possibly unlawful restraint.

This will be the first ever serious case review examining the institutional abuse of children in prison; others were established following the restraint-related deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, though they did not examine claims of wider mistreatment.

In January 2012, the High Court found unlawful restraint had been widespread in the four secure training centres for a decade, possibly longer. At the time, G4S ran three of the centres and Serco ran the fourth.

Medway secure training centre – 10 months on

In January this year, the BBC broadcast undercover filming of the abuse of children at Medway secure training centre. Kent Police subsequently made 11 arrests and eight individuals were later charged.

Medway Safeguarding Children Board has still not announced whether it intends to commission an independent serious case review. Article 39’s Director wrote to the Board’s Chair in June, to share information obtained through FOI requests about injuries and breathing difficulties sustained by children during restraint and to urge an independent review.

Now that the Department for Education’s Serious Case Review Panel’s annual report has been published, and contains no explicit reference to Medway, we have submitted an FOI request to the DfE for a copy of any advice the Panel has issued to the Board.

Medway secure training centre is a prison for children aged 12 to 17. It was the first of four secure training centres to be opened by the former Labour Government: three were run by G4S and one by Serco. At least three-quarters of the children first detained at Medway, when it opened in April 1998, had formerly lived in children’s homes. G4S ran the prison from 1998 to July 2016, when it transferred to government control. Last month, the Guardian reported senior managers at Medway were paid bonuses in April.

The multinational continues to run Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes, Parc prison for boys and young adults in South Wales and several children’s homes. In February it announced it would sell its children’s services business, though this has not yet happened. In May, G4S published its corporate social responsibility annual report which includes a full-page on the child abuse allegations, under the heading “An open approach to addressing human rights issues”.

Earlier this month, a G4S manager’s assault case was dismissed. The prosecution told the court that CCTV footage appeared to show the 24 year-old manager striking a child in the face. Afterwards, the boy seemed “to clutch his face for some time”. The 15 year-old refused to pursue a complaint against the manager, telling a social worker he “probably deserved it”. The defence said the incident was banter and the footage (with no recorded sound) failed to show the manager’s hand connecting with the boy. The Chair of the Magistrates’ Bench concluded, “We feel we cannot properly convict Ms Harold based on the evidence we have seen and therefore there is no case to answer”.

Read our G4S Medway timeline and Secure training centres in numbers (different site).