No to pain-inducing restraint

LATEST: 7 August 2020
This afternoon we heard the excellent news that pain-inducing restraint has been taken out of the core restraint syllabus for escort custody officers taking children to/from custody. The companies employing escort custody officers have been instructed that these techniques must never be used when other approaches are possible. (In October 2019, the government announced GEOAmey and Serco have been contracted for 10 years to provide prisoner escort and custody services, which includes the escort of detained children).

Our work is not over on this – we want to make sure that restraint is not authorised simply to make children follow orders. And we want to be sure that the new policy genuinely removes pain and complies with children’s human rights. We also have an upcoming tribunal after the Ministry of Justice refused to release information showing the recorded reasons why children had been inflicted with pain-inducing techniques in prisons in 2017/18. The Information Commissioner supported this refusal after Ministry of Justice officials told her it could take 85 hours to retrieve such information (beyond the time-limit for freedom of information requests).

Article 39 has always challenged pain-inducing restraint. The death of Adam Rickwood, aged just 14 years, after he was inflicted with the so-called ‘nose distraction’ – see below – together with the testimony of other children, has been our driving force.

In 2016, we discovered that escort custody officers were being trained to inflict pain as a form of restraint on children during their journeys to/from secure children’s homes. This was despite such techniques being banned in the secure children’s homes themselves. After corresponding with the government, in February 2016 (see below), we saw that legal action would be the only way to protect children.

We raised funds through a CrowdJustice appeal and our legal team started challenging the policy in August 2017, after which the Ministry of Justice undertook an internal review – concluding that the policy should remain unchanged. We kept up the pressure, and were then told a full review of pain-inducing restraint would take place. Lack of progress led us to apply for permission for judicial review in October 2018. The High Court stayed (paused) our application in January 2019 while a review was carried out by Charlie Taylor (then Chair of the Youth Justice Board though undertaking the review in a personal capacity), and Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights completed an inquiry in child custody.

Fast-forward to June 2020 (with a lot of work in between!) and the publication of Charlie Taylor’s report. This recommended that pain-inducing restraint be taken out of the main restraint syllabus, with techniques involving pain only ever being potentially available in very serious, emergency self-defence situations. The government accepted this recommendation – both in respect of children’s journeys to/from custody (our legal challenge) and child prisons.

But the government’s full written response gave no indication as to when children would be protected. In fact, it suggested there could be significant delay, saying:

As this represents a considerable change to the existing MMPR manual, sufficient time and resources will need to be allocated to ensure that the impact is fully researched and understood before any changes are implemented. 

Further correspondence from our lawyers followed. The Ministry of Justice was told we were preparing to return to court. Then, on 7 August 2020 – more than four years after we started challenging the policy, and a day before the 16th anniversary of Adam Rickwood dying, we heard the excellent news that pain-inducing techniques are no longer authorised as a form of restraint during children’s journeys to/from custody. We were also given a time-frame for their removal from child prisons themselves.

Adam Rickwood
The first and most important challenge to pain-inducing restraint came from 14 year-old Adam Rickwood. He was inflicted with the so-called ‘nose distraction’ in a Serco-run child prison in August 2004. This technique involved officers making a karate-like chop upwards from the base of a child’s nose. Adam’s nose bled for around an hour.

Adam verbally questioned officers during the ‘restraint’. He then wrote a note for his solicitor recounting that he had asked what gave staff the right to hit a child in the nose, and they called it restraint. Adam wrote a separete letter to his family setting out his funeral wishes. He then hanged himself.

Use of the ‘nose distraction’ was suspended more than three years after Adam died, though officers continued to be trained and authorised to use other methods which cause children to suffer psychologically and physically.

Article 39’s Director wrote this piece for openDemocracy on the 15th anniversary of Adam’s death (8 August 2019).

Adam Rickwood photograph


“When I calmed down I asked them why they hit me in the nose and jumped on me. They said it was because I wouldn’t go in my room so I said what gives them the right to hit a 14-year-old child in the nose and they said it was restraint.”
– extract from note left by Adam, August 2004

Our submission to the Charlie Taylor Review on pain-inducing restraint (7 May 2019) can be downloaded here.

Legal team challenging pain-inducing restraint
Article 39 is represented by Mark Scott, Partner at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, and Dan Squires QC and Tamara Jaber from Matrix Chambers.