Shine A Light

Bullying kids: G4S abuse of child prisoners exposed

For years the Howard League and others have warned of abuse of child inmates in secure training centres. Now the BBC’s Panorama programme has caught it on camera.

Rob Preece
12 January 2016
fucking doorG4S Team Leader, Anthony. Now suspended.jpg

'All I asked you to do was clean this fucking door and you aint!' G4S officer to 14 year old boy (BBC Panorama)

Billy is a troubled 14-year-old boy. He stands at the door of the classroom, shouting.
 Moments later, a burly officer storms into the room. He shouts in the boy’s face and then grabs him, pushing him on to a table, twisting his arms behind his back, and calling for others to help.

As a second officer arrives, Billy cries in pain: “Aaarrgh, I can’t breathe... Aaarrgh, what are you doing?”

The senior officer has his fingers on the boy’s throat. 

This was only one of several scenes of child cruelty revealed in footage recorded by an undercover reporter for last night’s BBC Panorama documentary on the G4S-run Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent.

In other scenes a boy is goaded and attacked by an officer because of the football team he supports. Another boy, who has self-harmed, is subjected to unlawful violent restraint on the anniversary of his mother’s death.

The documentary will have shocked viewers, but the Howard League for Penal Reform has warned for years about systemic problems in secure training centres.

GARETH MYATT 400_3.jpg

Gareth MyattIn April 2004,15-year-old Gareth Myatt died from choking on his own vomit while being restrained by G4S staff at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire.

Four months later, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham, run by Serco. An inquest later found that Adam had been unlawfully restrained and this had contributed to his death.

In 2012, a High Court judge ruled that the unlawful use of restraint had been widespread in privately-run secure training centres for at least a decade.


Adam RickwoodThe Howard League legal team has dealt with numerous concerns raised by or on behalf of children at Medway dating from at least 2008. The team has also worked with adults who were detained there as children and who have raised concerns about their treatment.

Children at Medway with whom the charity has worked include a 14-year-old boy, who was being restrained once a fortnight on average. Despite our numerous requests, we were never provided with CCTV evidence of the incidents. Our complaints have been investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, and we await its report.

We made a safeguarding referral for an asthmatic 16-year-old boy, who complained that, while he was in education, he was restrained by staff who squeezed his head and neck, causing him to fall to the floor.

We also made a referral for a 15-year-old boy, whose mother had contacted us. She said that staff at Medway had taken her son into his room, where there were no cameras, and hit him about the head.

A 16-year-old girl at Medway reported being poked and called names by staff. She said that they had forced their way into her room after she had placed a mattress against a viewing panel while on a constant watch. We made a safeguarding referral, which was investigated.

Invariably the Howard League’s complaints are not upheld, often because of a lack of CCTV evidence corroborating the child’s version of events.

Last night’s Panorama included footage of violent incidents involving staff that took place away from the view of CCTV cameras.

So what happens next?
 Some of the most troubling scenes in the documentary showed institutionalised fraud being perpetrated to cover up the abuse. Three G4S officers are filmed concocting a story to justify the assault on the grieving boy.

Children in Medway are not safe, and other places must be found for them within days. Then G4S’s contract to run this rotten institution should be rescinded.

 Enough is enough. We don’t need further reviews or vague promises that lessons will be learned. It is time for ministers to rescind G4S’s contract and explore whether this toxic company should repay the taxpayers’ money it has received in recent years. It has been paid to look after children and it has failed.




1.    The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.

2.    The BBC Panorama programme, ‘Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed’, was broadcast on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday 11 January and is available on BBC iPlayer.

3.    In August 2013, the Howard League wrote an open letter to the then Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, outlining that the complaints system in place for secure training centres was ineffective and not sufficiently independent. A month later, the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman assumed jurisdiction of complaints from children in secure training centres. The letter can be viewed in PDF here.

4.    The Howard League has published a report examining the use of force on children in custody. Twisted can be viewed in PDF here.

5.    The Howard League’s report, Corporate Crime? A dossier on the failure of privatisation in the criminal justice system, can be viewed in PDF here

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