NSPCC calls for end to abuse in custody

Jonathan Owen,Brian Brady
Sunday 16 March 2008 01:00

Britain's biggest children's charity will tomorrow launch a campaign demanding an end to "violent" and "degrading" assaults on children in custody.

The NSPCC warns that teenagers held in the UK's privately run detention centres face a life where "anger, violence and aggression are commonplace". It has amassed a dossier detailing a litany of abuse, including broken bones, cuts and bruising, suffered by teenagers as young as 14.

The evidence will be submitted to an independent review into restraint that will report next month. The review was set up in the wake of inquests held last year into the deaths of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt, 15, who both died in separate secure training centres after being restrained by staff in 2004.

It is expected to recommend an end to "distraction" techniques – painful methods of striking and restraining teenagers.

New figures provided to The Independent on Sunday by the NSPCC reveal that physical restraint is commonplace – being used on almost 5,000 occasions in young offender institutions and secure training centres in England and Wales between April and December 2007, resulting in 154 injuries, including loss of consciousness and damage to internal organs.

Young people in custody are subjected to a battery of assaults that breach human rights, and include being forced into positions where they can hardly breathe, having their thumbs and limbs bent to breaking point, and fists forced into their ribs, campaigners say.

Dame Mary Marsh, director and chief executive of the NSPCC, which is mobilising supporters to lobby MPs, has condemned the painful techniques as "dangerous, violent, degrading, and cruel ... Many children will have suffered abuse before going into custody. They need care, not harsh treatment. We believe painful restraint is a breach of children's human rights, and, if used elsewhere in society, the adult involved could be guilty of assault."

One young person described being refused permission to see a doctor about his stomach pains, and how he was restrained after he refused to return to his cell, before staff discovered that he had appendicitis.

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Children's Commissioner for England, said he was "horrified" by the techniques after experiencing them himself. "I can testify that they are indeed extremely painful," he said.

His concerns were echoed by MPs and peers on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The committee said restraint techniques involving deliberate physical pain should be banned "without delay."

Pamela Wilton, mother of Gareth Myatt, said: "Nothing can bring him back to me. My only hope is that the Government will listen to the voices of children in custody so that lessons can be learnt and other children can be kept safe."

A Justice Ministry spokesman said: "Behaviour in secure training centres can be very violent and staff need effective methods to contain and resolve dangerous situations."

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