The treatment of young people in custody is under scrutiny once again following further allegations of abuse and ill-treatment

Lawyers at Leigh Day have reacted with dismay to revelations that G4S, the private security group, has again had to suspend several of its members of staff following serious allegations of abuse and mistreatment, in this case at Medway Secure Training Centre near Rochester.

The reports of institutional brutality, which include allegations that staff ‘punched and slapped’ teenagers, ‘boasted’ about using inappropriate restraint techniques and, in two extremely concerning cases, squeezed a teenager’s windpipe so hard that he struggled to breathe and boasted of stabbing another child in the leg with a fork, is not the first time that the conduct of G4S staff in this context has been called into question.

In May 2015, at least six members of G4S staff were dismissed from Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Rugby, after a damning Ofsted report revealed that some members of staff had been under the influence of drugs whilst on duty, had ‘colluded’ with detainees, and had subjected young people to degrading and racist treatment.

This included findings reported in The Guardian G4S that one child had suffered a fracture, potentially as a result of a physical restraint, but did not receive treatment for 15 hours as senior staff had decided to ignore clear medical advice that he needed medical treatment.

This follows the death of 15 year old Gareth Myatt, who died of asphyxiation during a ‘seated double embrace’ (now banned) at the very same institution (Rainsbrook) some 11 years previously.

Despite the Ofsted report into Rainsbrook being published in May 2015, G4S did not lose its contract to run the centre until September 2015, and was then granted a 5 month extension until May 2016 to ‘support the transition to new management’.

Abuse solicitor Kate Whiting said that whilst she welcomed the news that an independent investigation has now been launched by Kent Police and Medway Safeguarding Children Board into the current allegations concerning the Medway Secure Training Centre, and further that the Youth Justice Board has [albeit temporarily] suspended sending any further children there, the current allegations nonetheless raise questions yet again about G4S’s suitability for running such centres and, more generally, the permissibility and boundaries of physical restraint.

Kate said:

“We are aware from the work that we do that young people who may be vulnerable in various ways, including children in custody and children with special educational needs, may be more liable to being inappropriately restrained or mistreated. Further, that often those young people, their parents, and the services involved with their care, may be unclear as to exactly what is and what isn’t permissible physical intervention.

As we have previously commented in a blog Time to end the use of restrictive physical interventions?, physical interventions, if not appropriately controlled and monitored, can often lead to an escalation, rather than de-escalation, of behaviour; can create distrust and damage personal and professional relationships; can humiliate, degrade, and undermine the dignity of both the staff and individuals involved; and, in the most severe cases, can result in physical and/or psychiatric harm.

It is clear that the alleged conduct of staff at Medway, which would appear to include allegations of intentional assault, oversteps the mark of what is permissible. However, if we are to really try and put a stop to such ill-treatment, and to ensure that any physical interventions – if there truly is no other option – are used in a genuinely proportionate manner and only so far as absolutely necessary to meet the immediate need, then it is clear that clarity is needed.

In light of today’s news, we therefore call once again on the government to approach this issue with proper scrutiny, and to honour its promise to publish updated guidance on the use of restrictive physical interventions for staff working with both children and adults."