Revealed: G4S youth jail faced abuse claims 12 years ago

No significant action taken after 2003 allegations by whistleblowers at Medway secure training centre currently under investigation over similar behaviour

G4S and Medway - the full story:
Former Medway inmate: ‘The guard slammed my face off the ice’

G4S youth jails: a story of revolving doors, dangerous restraints and death

The G4S-run Medway youth jail must be closed

Serious allegations of abuse and bullying at a G4S-run youth prison were made more than a decade before the current controversy surrounding the secure training centre which is now to be sold off, the Guardian can reveal.

Eleven staff were suspended or sacked from Medway STC in Kent last month after a BBC documentary alleged staff were inappropriately restraining inmates and falsifying statistics to improve the jail’s record. G4S announced on Friday that it was to sell its “children’s services businesses”, including the contracts for Medway and another STC, in Oakhill, Milton Keynes.

The announcement came on the same day the Guardian was able to report that two Medway whistleblowers had made claims in 2003 about inmates being abused by staff, and staff being bullied by the head of G4S children’s services, Paul Cook, who was in charge of the facility. No significant action appears to have been taken as a result of the complaint.

The Guardian understands Kent police spoke to one of the whistleblowers in 2003 but took no statement or action.

A letter, sent to the Youth Justice Board (YJB), G4S, Social Services Inspectorate and a Home Office minister by a youth justice academic on behalf of the whistleblowers, alleges children had been badly hurt when guards tried to restrain them, including one boy having his shoulder dislocated, and that staff were encouraged to falsify restraint statistics.

The Guardian has also spoken to former Medway inmates who have made fresh allegations of abuse, including one woman who, as a teenager, suffered a miscarriage in the youth jail and was locked in her cell alone to endure the ordeal.

The Panorama investigation showed staff talking openly about falsifying records of violent incidents in order to prevent the company being fined for “losing control” of those in their care. Under STC rules, if more than two young people are involved in a fight, it is classified as the guards losing control of the centre.

Allegations of abuse, now being investigated by police, included children being slapped on the head and the use of restraint tactics against STC rules, including pressing on a boy’s windpipe causing him to complain that he could not breathe.

G4S was quick to condemn those members of staff who had been secretly filmed abusing children or talking out of turn, describing them as bad apples that had to be got rid of. Cook said he was “shocked and appalled” by the revelations.

But identical allegations were made 12 years earlier when Prof John Pitts, an expert in youth crime and youth justice who was contacted by the Medway whistleblowers, wrote to the relevant authorities on their behalf in 2003. That year Cook was appointed head of G4S children’s services and was acting director of Medway.

The letter contains a litany of alleged abuses, including claims that “a boy had his shoulder dislocated whilst being restrained”, another boy “sustained carpet burns to his face” as he was restrained, and a duty manager grabbed a boy by the neck and told him “you will fucking respect me”.

It also alleges that staff claimed Cook was a bully. “He has stated that he has the power to ‘change the course of people’s career’ and ‘sack people on the spot’,” the letter reads.

Head of G4S children's services Paul Cook
Paul Cook. Photograph: BBC News

“Staff are encouraged to falsify statistics. Mr Cook has told staff not to take their concerns to the Home Office monitor and that they should instead go to him. This is not in line with the company’s policy and procedure.”

Pitts explains in the letter that he has spoken at length with the whistleblowers and believes they are telling the truth.

He wrote: “I am sure that you will be as concerned as I am by the information below, not least because it has worrying echoes of the ‘Pindown’ scandal of 1991. I would appreciate it if, having read what follows, you could let me know what action you plan to take.”

Speaking to the Guardian this week, Pitts said he may have received one brief reply from one of the agencies he contacted acknowledging receipt of his letter but did not receive a substantive response.

“It got lost in the machinery,” he said.

His letter was written seven months before the teenager Gareth Myatt died after being restrained at Rainsbrook, which was also run by G4S.

A document seen by the Guardian, entitled Physical Control In Care (PCC) Introduction, is a G4S staff training manual explaining when and how restraint should be used in STCs. It was seized by police after Myatt’s death and lists the names of 11 PCC instructors, with their nicknames in brackets, including Rowdy, Clubber, Mauler and Breaker.

Malcolm Stevens, who in 2003 was the director of Rebound, the then title of G4S’s children’s services, said Pitts’ letter triggered a two-phase inspection by the Social Services Inspectorate.

But the inspection report suggests that the first phase took place before Pitts wrote the letter. It does not make any reference to Pitts or the whistleblowers and only alludes to non-specific complaints that had been made.

The Home Office was unable to locate the letter from Pitts or its responses . The YJB confirmed it received the letter and referred it to Medway social services. The YJB said Pitts was made aware of this at the time but he has no recollection of receiving a response. Medway social services did not respond when asked to comment.

The Ministry of Justice said: “The safety and welfare of young people in custody is vital. As with the footage gathered by Panorama, these allegations are extremely concerning and we will examine them very carefully.

“The justice secretary has been clear that the provision for young people in our care is not good enough which is why he has asked Charlie Taylor to review the entire youth justice system.”

Lin Hinnigan, the YJB chief executive, said: “The safety of children in custody is critical. We have bolstered our monitoring at Medway STC and, alongside other agencies involved in providing care there, are reviewing our systems to understand why we were all unaware of the shocking behaviours which Panorama identified.

“As soon as these two additional historical allegations were brought to our attention by the Guardian, we contacted the relevant authorities.”

Deborah Coles, of the campaigning organisation Inquest, said: “That this alleged mistreatment was not picked up and acted upon by monitoring and oversight systems that should be in place to protect and safeguard vulnerable children from abuse is an indictment of the Youth Justice Board and the Home Office.

“If this letter had been acted upon Gareth Myatt may well still be alive.”

In response to the allegations made in Pitts’ letter, Cook told the Guardian: “In 2003 … I was asked to go to the centre to address serious failings and challenge the ways of working which had resulted in a chaotic regime for young people. At times, this was unpopular among some of the staff but when inspectors returned later in 2003, staff reported a clearer sense of direction for themselves and the whole centre.

“I have always welcomed independent scrutiny and encouraged my team to work constructively with inspectors and other external agencies in an open but professional way and respond positively to the recommendations made in order to keep young people, and improving their life chances, at the heart of what we do.”

Medway has historically had difficulties retaining staff. A written answer to a parliamentary question from the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks last month revealed there had been a 60% turnover of staff at the facility in 2015.

Professor John Pitts
John Pitts. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

G4S told the Guardian that Pitts’ letter had been copied to a “number of the most senior figures in the country with responsibility for child protection” and that “it is somewhat inconceivable that these issues were not examined in the normal course by both the inspectorate and Medway children’s services”.

The regional president for G4S in the UK and Ireland, Peter Neden, said: “Our secure training centres are open to a range of independent professionals, from care workers, to Barnardo’s, the NHS and Youth Justice Board, who observe the young people on site and the behaviour of our staff on a daily basis. Under G4S management these centres have received positive recognition from inspecting bodies, with over a dozen inspections rating them as ‘outstanding’.

“We continue to support the work of the newly appointed Ministry of Justice improvement board to address the very serious issues raised at the Medway secure training centre last month.”

  • Eric Allison is the Guardian’s prison correspondent and was a consultant on Panorama’s Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed


Eric Allison, Simon Hattenstone and Jamie Grierson

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