Inmates go on rampage at child jail

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RIOT POLICE with dogs have been called to quell serious disorder at Britain's first child jail only two months after it opened.

A group of nine children, aged 12-14, went on the rampage, smashing windows, and pelting staff with pool balls. Two boys and a girl, all aged 14, were taken into police custody and three staff were injured.

The violence at Medway Secure Training Centre (STC) in Kent is a major embarrassment for Group 4, which runs the centre through a subsidiary company, and threatens to undermine the Government's policy for dealing with persistent child offenders. Just 15 children are currently held at Medway at a per capita cost of pounds 2,400 a week. Although the centre only opened in April, its head of care, Mike Hale, has already signalled his intention to leave.

Last week, Norman Warner, senior policy adviser to the Home Secretary Jack Straw, announced that the Government was so impressed with the centre that it was planning a massive expansion of such institutions.

The disorder at Medway broke out at 8pm on Thursday when five youngsters began smashing up the accommodation block that they share with two members of staff. A closed circuit television camera was damaged along with other fixtures and fittings and several windows were smashed.

The children then burst out into the courtyard - a landscaped garden designed to look like a village green - and taunted staff who pleaded with them to calm down.

Four other children, who had been allowed into the centre's games area in return for their previous good behaviour, rushed out to join the other five, snatching balls from the pool table and hurling them at staff.

The youngsters then ran to the education block and began smashing the windows.

Police were called and more than 30 officers, wearing riot equipment, restored order by 10pm. Kent police said it was "entirely possible" that more children would be arrested as investigations continued.

A spokesman for Rebound ECD (Education, Care, Discipline), a subsidiary of Group 4 Security, said it was a "shocking incident" and condemned the children's "violent, abusive and hooligan behaviour". The centre has 100 staff, although the spokesman would not say how many were on duty during the disorder. He said the children did not appear to have a particular grievance.

Medway is the first of five planned STCs, proposed by the then home secretary, Michael Howard, in 1993. They were condemned by Labour while in opposition as "colleges of crime" and have been widely criticised by penal reform groups.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, called yesterday for Medway to be "closed down forthwith and the children sent somewhere safe". She said it was appalling that social services child protection teams were not allowed on to the site unless invited by Group 4.

Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the violence should be the subject of a public inquiry, while Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said that more violence was likely to occur.

The Home Office said the disorder was an internal matter for Group 4. "It's a significant incident but not a serious, major incident," said a spokesman. "It has been described as a riot but nine kids is not a riot."

The children at Medway are held under Secure Training Orders, which detain them for between three months and a year, with an equivalent period spent after release under supervision in the community.

To be sent to the centre, children must have committed three imprisonable offences and have breached a supervision order. Before the centre opened it was impossible to detain such young children unless they had committed serious crimes such as rape or murder.

The next STCs are due to open at Onley in Northamptonshire and Medomsley in County Durham.