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Children suffer racist abuse and ‘degrading treatment’ by guards high on drugs at G4S Rainsbrook prison

G4S appoints “new leadership” at Rainsbrook: the man in charge when Gareth Myatt, 15, was restrained to death, the man who told an inquest he hadn’t read the restraint manual.

Staff at Rainsbrook, a G4S-run children’s prison near Rugby, took illegal drugs and subjected children to “degrading treatment” and “racist comments” according to an inspection report published this week.

The report follows an unannounced inspection by Ofsted, HM Prisons Inspectorate and the Care Quality Commission in February this year.

After the inspection, G4S appointed “new leadership” at Rainsbrook, which holds children aged 12 to 18. Yesterday I heard that John Parker had been put back in charge. I checked with G4S. They confirmed it was true.

Gareth MyattMy thoughts went to Pam Wilton, the mother of Gareth Myatt, whom I interviewed last year. She told me there’d been no justice for her son.

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre is where Gareth, aged 15, of mixed race, and small for his age, died during a horrific ‘restraint’ by three G4S guards in 2004. John Parker was Rainsbrook’s director at the time. He admitted at the inquest into Gareth’s death that he had never read the Home Office manual governing the use of restraint in his prison.

(One guard involved in that lethal restraint, 16 stone Dave Beadnall, was later promoted to the post of safety, health and environmental manager at G4S children’s services.)

This week’s report, which condemns Rainsbrook as “inadequate”, the worst possible category of performance, leaves many questions unanswered.

It fails to convey what the G4S guards did to the children, claiming: “The full details of a number of very serious incidents have not been included to protect individual young people’s confidentiality.”

Also unclear is the performance of the Youth Justice Board, which oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales and contracts prison places for children.

In every secure training centre run by commercial contractors there are YJB monitors employed by the state. Monitors are under a statutory duty to investigate allegations against custody officers and to report these and any other concerns to Ministers.

What did the YJB and its monitors know of the “serious incidents” at Rainsbrook? When did they know it?

YJB chief executive Lin Hinnigan said in a written statement issued on Wednesday: “Earlier this year, Ofsted informed the YJB of serious concerns in performance at Rainsbrook STC.”

But speaking yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (here, at 1hr 13mins), Paul Cook, G4S’s director of children’s services, suggested that G4S had shared information with YJB monitors about the serious incidents soon after they happened. 

The timing is important, not least because the YJB renewed G4S’s contract in 2014.

“This is an extremely disappointing report for everyone connected with Rainsbrook,” said Paul Cook. “It’s the first time in 16 years that the centre has been found by any inspecting body to be less than good or outstanding.”

That chimes with Lin Hinnigan and the YJB press release: “We are confident that Rainsbrook will return to the high levels of performance and care it previously delivered,” she said.

Good. Outstanding. High levels of performance. Such language is highly misleading.

John Parker, G4S; Lin Hinnigan, Youth Justice Board; Paul Cook, G4S

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre opened in July 1999. In April 2004, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died after being held face down in a seated position by three officers. He had been admitted on a Friday and was dead by the Monday.

The officers who held Gareth down, and ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe, had been tutored in this restraint technique by a trainer known to her colleagues as ‘Clubber Clay’. Other staff nicknames included ‘Mauler’, ‘Crusher’ and ‘Breaker’. This information came out during the inquest into Gareth’s death.

Four years after Gareth’s death, a Rainsbrook team leader dragged a 13 year-old child along tarmac and then up a flight of stairs within the prison, before putting him in his cell; he was convicted of actual bodily harm.

During a failed negligence claim in 2010, brought by one of the officers who fatally restrained Gareth, the Court of Appeal was given data on the ‘seated double embrace’ restraint technique. In the year preceding Gareth’s death, this was used on children in Rainsbrook 369 times. Children suffered harm in “almost one case in three”; in 10 per cent of the total incidents, this had been life-threatening.

In 2012, the High Court found that all four of the secure training centres then operating (three run by G4S, one by Serco) had been unlawfully restraining children for up to a decade.

Paul Cook is aware that both the High Court and the inquest into Gareth’s death criticised inspectors, YJB monitors and G4S management for failing to notice that children were being abused. What credibility can we give to those earlier ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ reports when we know children were repeatedly unlawfully restrained?

Let’s take a closer look at this week’s Ofsted revelations.

“Poor staff behaviour has led to some young people being subject to degrading treatment, racist comments, and being cared for by staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs,” the report says.

There was  “poor application of restraint” and staff caused “distress and humiliation” to children. Some of those responsible were in “positions of leadership”.

Private Eye May 2010 (issue 1262)One child with a fracture “potentially” caused by restraint was not allowed medical treatment for 15 hours.

This seems to be the “unfortunate incident” Cook referred to on the Today programme, when he was pressed to explain why the then prison’s director had overruled clinical advice that the child required hospital assessment.

I asked Ofsted for the age of the child, the nature of the fracture and whether it was the result of restraint.

Ofsted replied: “We’re unable to provide this level of detail for privacy reasons.”

In the six months prior to the inspection, 15 children were injured during restraint; another four required hospital treatment after “violent incidents”. Nearly half of restraints occurred because a child was self-harming.

Proper ‘debriefing’ of children after restraint was one of the measures introduced after Gareth’s death. The YJB contracts independent advocacy from the children’s charity Barnardo’s.

One of the service’s functions, included in the specification I obtained through a freedom of information request, is to offer “proactive support following restraint”. Yet, inspectors found “few” children who have been restrained take up the offer of speaking with Barnardo’s advocates. Why? 

The report said that healthcare staff do not attend restraint incidents — another vital safeguard not being implemented. And there were delays in restraint information being passed to the government team monitoring the use of Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR), the system of restraint developed in response to the deaths of Gareth and Adam Rickwood, a 14 year-old boy who killed himself after being restrained in a different prison (now closed). It took G4S six months to report one serious incident. (Rainsbrook was the first child prison to adopt MMPR, in March 2013. Hardly teething problems.)

Inspectors state there were witnesses to some of the “gross misconduct”. But these witnesses took no action. Why not?

Children had submitted 174 written complaints during 2014, and made an additional 111 ‘grumbles’ – the G4S process for “low level issues”. The majority of complaints “concerned property”, for example clothing or personal items going missing, Ofsted told me. This is common in institutional settings.

On admission children were “routinely” given a dignity search”. No description is given of the process; previous inspection reports indicate that children are patted down over their clothing.

Inspectors visiting Rainsbrook in December 2012 were similarly told that only dignity searches were in use. When they asked children about their experiences, they discovered “a number” had been required to strip off in front of officers on admission. No such concerns were raised this time, though inspectors observed the presence of a bed in the searching room “may be unsettling” for children, especially those who have been abused.

Inspectors found eight cases of serious staff misconduct occurring since the prison was last scrutinised in November/December 2013. There were “at least” six sackings. The numbers point to institutional, rather than individual, dysfunction.

The inspectorates highlight the absence of a wider investigation, which could “provide reassurance that the high number of serious incidents of staff misconduct are not indicative of a wider negative underlying staff culture”. That’s seems to be a polite way of saying the staff culture could be rotten.

At the time of the inspection this past February, Rainsbrook  held 77 boys and girls aged 12 to 18. A survey of 54 of them revealed that 57 per cent had been in local authority care, a quarter were under the age of 16, and 17 per cent were disabled. Eleven of the children received no visits at all from family, carers or friends.  

Such children are uniquely vulnerable. They rely upon the YJB and its chief executive Lin Hinnigan, who has had a long career in the service of children, including as a teacher, social worker and educational psychologist, to protect them from harm.

If the YJB continues to find itself unable to terminate G4S’s contract, then government ministers must intervene to protect children and end this unhealthy relationship of co-dependency. How about Nicky Morgan, the government minister in charge of child protection, or Michael Gove, in charge of justice and prisons, or Theresa May, in charge of the institutional abuse inquiry? One of them must surely recognise that children can never be safe in this prison.

 


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