Category: G4S

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:

G4S-Medway-FOI

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).

Private companies and child prisons

Ministers have ducked a question about the risks to children of private companies running child prisons. A question was asked in Parliament by Lord Ramsbotham, following the serious abuse of children in G4S-run Medway secure training centre, which only came to the public’s attention through undercover filming by BBC Panorama.

Lord Ramsbotham asked:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have undertaken an analysis of the risks and benefits of profit-making companies managing custodial institutions in the light of the serious allegations against some members of the G4S staff at Medway Secure Training Centre and the subsequent transfer of that centre to government control.”

Conservative Life Peer, Lord Keen, answered for the Government in his capacity as Ministry of Justice spokesperson:

“The allegations at Medway STC are shocking and completely unacceptable. Decisive action has already been taken, which includes the appointment of a new centre manager and senior management team. G4S have been removed from the running of Medway and since 1 July the centre has been under new leadership.

“The safety and rehabilitation of young offenders is extremely important. We will be responding to the Charlie Taylor review with our plans for reform shortly.

“Well-run prisons are fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system, and a vital part of our reform plans.

“Private providers play an important role in the prison estate. Performance of all providers is closely monitored and we will not hesitate to take action where standards fall short. Our providers are contractually required to cooperate with performance monitoring and audit by the Ministry.”

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, says:

“Secure training centres were an experiment in large multinationals running prisons for children as young as 12. After systemic abuse was exposed in the G4S-run Medway secure training centre, it was perfectly reasonable for Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, to ask Ministers if they have analysed the costs and benefits of profit-making companies running child prisons. The question remains unanswered, so we must assume that no such investigation has taken place. Without an examination of how the pursuit of profit may have contributed, directly or indirectly, to child abuse in Medway secure training centre, there can be no assurance that children will be better protected in the future.”

G4S continues to run Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes. The third centre, Rainsbrook, was taken from G4S’s management and handed to MTCnovo earlier this year. This followed very critical inspection reports. In November 2015, Article 39 wrote with the Howard League for Penal Reform and INQUEST to the Youth Justice Board with a dossier of concerns about the US-based company MTC.

G4S runs one of the five juvenile young offender institutions in England and Wales; the other four are run by the state. Children aged 15-17 are detained in young offender institutions.

Secure children’s homes presently detain the youngest and most vulnerable children, though many organisations, including Article 39, believe these should be used for all children who cannot be safely cared for in the community. This week, the Children’s Commissioner for England said she, supports the use of secure children’s homes where custody is absolutely necessary as these have a more caring ethos”. In July, Sir Martin Narey recommended that private providers be encouraged to “enter the secure care market”. All except one secure children’s home are run by local authorities, as part of their children’s services; the other is managed by a charity.

Lord Ramsbotham’s question (and the Ministry of Justice’s answer) can be viewed here.