My name is Glenda Beato. I live in a densely housed area in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire — there's a mixed culture of families and elderly people.
I knew that my neighbour had sold his property back in May — apparently to a “nice couple”. He’d told me himself. But then a bright yellow planning application notice appeared on the Sold board which stated that a Mr Simon Herbert of a private address in Lidington, Bedfordshire, was applying to change the property into a children’s home.
The notice said he had submitted an application to change the property from Class 3 to a Class 2 (residential to business use). I rushed indoors to search Aylesbury Vale District Council’s website.
The application form confirmed Mr Herbert’s name and home address, but no company name. Perhaps a caring couple were going to foster 12 to 18 year olds?
But what was that smiley-faced logo? I thought it might indicate that Mr Herbert ran other homes, so I googled him and discovered that he was, in fact, the commercial director of G4S Children’s Homes.
I discovered that G4S owned eight more of these homes — those same four smiley faces peered out at me.
All I knew of G4S was that they were the people who'd bungled security at the London Olympics. I had no idea they ran children's homes as well.
Well, I’m no N.I.M.B.Y, but I could see that my neighbour’s property would be totally unsuitable due to its location on a 90 degree corner, in an area originally built in the Edwardian period, with no off-street parking, and narrow streets that delivery drivers dread having to negotiate.
The house is large, with room for five children. It stands next to the local park that has a long history of drug and alcohol related problems and anti social behaviour. The locality is home to a centre for the mentally ill, an addictions service, a youth offender unit. I could see huge safeguarding challenges looming for children who might already be troubled and at risk.
Had G4S carried out any research themselves before sending in their covert application?
I knocked on a few of my neighbours' doors and explained that behind the name of Mr Simon Herbert lurked G4S. My neighbours were outraged at the underhand way in which the application had been made. They shared my concerns about the property's unsuitability.
I leafleted the whole of Manor Park (about 200 properties) inviting people to a meeting at St John’s Ambulance HQ on June 10 to discuss the G4S proposed home. I invited our local Councillor, Raj Khan, and a former Councillor, Niknam Hussain, who lived in our area, and the local community police, who suggested that I should also invite Mr Herbert from G4S in order to have an unbiased meeting.
Since G4S had made no attempt to contact local residents about their proposal, and indeed had tried to fly right under the radar, I didn’t feel happy about inviting them to our meeting. Still, I made the effort to contact the mysterious Mr Herbert to invite him along. That's wasn't easy. I called the only available telephone number — G4S's emergency referral line allocated to social service departments, and explained the situation.
Simon Herbert duly contacted me — and gave me a lecture. He said that the home was for “our children in Bucks” and that G4S needn't have applied for planning permission if they’d wanted only three children, but that "wasn’t economically viable” so they needed five children, and five required planning permission . . . He eventually agreed to attend and said that he'd bring Paul Cook, the director of G4S children’s services, with him.
The house is priced at £450,000. Five children means potential income of more than £1 million a year, if BBC estimates of charges per child are accurate.
I expected perhaps a dozen residents at the meeting, but there must have been more than one hundred of us — some had to stand by the open fire exit doors. Mr Herbert was nowhere to be seen. He arrived an hour late and said nothing.
Residents grilled Paul Cook, the managing director. What were G4S’s criteria for choosing the property? He didn't provide an answer, he told one resident that he didn’t know where the property was located. He was asked repeatedly about traffic movements generated by the home. The application stated that G4S would need only 3 vehicles at the site at any one time, but Paul Cook agreed that there might be at least be seven. We knew visitors might include doctors, tutors, inspectors, tagging companies, family, school runs etc. Our Councillors pledged their support to us.
By the closing date of 19July, residents had sent in more than 90 emails and letters objecting to the proposal.
I wanted to learn more about G4S. I discovered the collection of articles here on OurKingdom, learned about G4S's involvement in the unlawful killing of Jimmy Mubenga, the mess they had made of providing housing for asylum seekers.
I sent off an email to openDemocracy, telling our story.
Clare Sambrook got back to me, asked questions, then tracked down three similar applications that had been submitted in Great Linford, near Milton Keynes, Middleton Cheney and Bicester.
I contacted the Parish Clerks in Great Linford and Middleton Cheney to ask if they were aware that "Mr Herbert" was in fact G4S. Only Great Linford responded; they hadn't been aware. Later on, a report in the Banbury Guardian confirmed that Middleton Cheney’s villagers didn't discover the name behind the planning application until it was too late.
I began to swop information and ideas with Peter, my equivalent in Great Linford.
After the closing date for comments had passed, someone took the trouble to trawl through every comment on the Aylesbury Vale District Council planning website, and compose a rebuttal. Nobody put their name to the rebuttal, G4S's name did not appear on it. But it was emailed in by a Mr Dave Beadnall who, I discovered, had submitted numerous planning applications in other areas to set up children’s homes. Many had been withdrawn. However, planning applications were not the darkest thing to be connected to Dave Beadnall’s name . . .
Nine years ago, Gareth Myatt, a 6 stone 7lb 15 year old, died whilst being restrained by Mr Beadnall, then a 16 stone, 6 foot tall G4S training supervisor and others. It was Gareth's third day at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, near Rugby. An approved restraining technique was used, which was subsequently banned. The Coroner recorded a verdict of Accidental Death. Dave Beadnall is now Health & Safety manager at G4S children’s homes.
If I needed inspiration to continue my battle, this latest information provided it. I've met with the Aylesbury MP David Lidington, I've emailed Ann Coffey MP for Stockton, and anyone else who I thought could help.
On the 16 July I sent a letter to Mrs S Imbriano, Strategic Director of Children’s Services at Bucks County Council, copied to Aylesbury Vale District Council Planning department. I mentioned that Mr Beadnall had been involved in the death of Gareth Myatt. (This information is in the public domain and accessible to all.) I said this showed that G4S was not a decent company to be allowed into Buckinghamshire, looking after vulnerable children.
Aylesbury Vale District Council chose to put the copy of my letter on their planning website as a “comment”, available for public viewing. A couple of days later it disappeared.
OurKingdom published two articles by Clare Sambrook on 22 July: G4S guard fatally restrains 15 year old - gets promoted, and Concealment and trickery - that's G4S children's homes. The second article mentioned my part in the story.
Nine days after the OurKingdom articles were published, I received a registered letter — from G4S. A legal letter. Here it is:
G4S Senior Counsel Vaishali Patel noted that my objection had referred to what she called “An incident that led to the death of Gareth Myatt”. She went on:
“While we do not intend to enter further correspondence about this incident with you, Mr Beadnall was fully exonerated by the Coroner at the Inquest. The Coroner recorded a verdict of “Accidental Death” caused during lawful restraint. Mr Beadnall was nonetheless left traumatised by this incident and your email has caused significant distress to him.”
Mrs Patel then requested that I “refrain from referring to this incident and the individuals involved in any further correspondence with the planning department.”
I felt threatened, very threatened. What lengths would G4S go to to frighten off ordinary people who get in their way? I checked my letter to Mrs Imbriano and reassured myself that I’d said nothing wrong; it wasn’t sent for publication as a comment anyway.
A few days passed and I began to feel easier, because now I knew that someone viewing the planning website had received a reminder of a small boy called Gareth Myatt who had his life cut short at the age of 15.
Thanks to Clare and OurKingdom, G4S and their underhand planning applications have been exposed in the national press. Ordinary people like me will, hopefully, be more aware of how G4S can sneak into their lives and will be ready to put up a fight.
Great Linford escaped G4S on a technicality concerning the ownership of the property; the residents also put up a good fight. Sadly, Middleton Cheney and Bicester have failed. Our fight continues — the planning committee is due to make its decision tomorrow. Win or lose, at least G4S haven’t been able to railroad the people of Manor Park.