G4S staff accused of punching, slapping youngsters in detention center

© Pontus Lundahl
Seven G4S staff have been accused of punching and slapping teenagers in a young offenders’ institution in south east England who were under their care.

The G4S employees in question, which include team leaders, two duty operation managers and training center assistants, have all been suspended.

The allegations concerning Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent were uncovered by a BBC Panorama investigation, the findings of which are yet to be broadcast.

The center is co-managed by G4S and the Youth Justice Board (YJB). The government has halted the placement of new young people in the facility until the claims are properly investigated.

The staff suspected of abusing the teenagers were suspended on December 30 after Panorama wrote to G4S. Panorama’s letter outlined the abuse it said it had uncovered while filming at Medway Secure Training Centre in an undercover capacity.

The allegations, which are believed to date from autumn 2015, include assault, verbal abuse and intimidation, and a deliberate attempted to cover-up the maltreatment. The staff are alleged to have punched one teenager in the ribcage and slapped another across the head on a number of occasions.

It has also been claimed G4S personnel forcibly pressed on the necks of the youngsters and deployed unnecessary restraint methods, such as squeezing a teenager’s windpipe, leaving him struggling to breathe.

G4S employees have also been accused of intimidating and frightening teenagers with offensive language and boasting of abusing them. One staff member was said to have gloated after he stabbed a teenager in the leg with a fork.

It has further been claimed G4S employees attempted to cover up the abuse by ensuring it occurred in areas that were not under CCTV surveillance.

G4S defended itself on Twitter, saying it does not work alone at the training center. The security firm said both the YJB and children’s charity Barnardos are “on site and form part of its operation and oversight.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform subsequently hit back at G4S, tweeting: “This begs the question: why did it take undercover reporting from BBC Panorama to reveal the Medway allegations?”

G4S has run Medway Secure Training Center since its opening in 1998.

The suspension of G4S staff at Medway follows an announcement in December 2014 of the departure of two employees at its Rainsbrook secure training center, who were guilty of serious incidents of misconduct.

In a formal statement released on Friday, G4S said it had referred allegations of inappropriate staff behavior at the young offenders’ institution to Medway’s Local Authority Designated Officer for safeguarding children (LADO), the YJB and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

The managing Director for G4S Children’s Services in the UK Paul Cook said the firm is treating the allegations with the “utmost gravity.”

“We take any allegations of unacceptable or inappropriate behavior extremely seriously and are giving our full support and co-operation to the LADO and the police as the investigation moves forward,” he said.

“The Police and LADO are the appropriate independent authorities to conduct the initial investigation into the allegations and once that investigation has concluded, we will agree with the Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board whether further independent review or investigation is required,” Cook added.

Chief Executive of the YJB Lin Hinnigan insisted the wellbeing and safety of young people detained in the institution is paramount. He said the YJB has up-scaled its “monitoring activity” at the Medway facility and its independent advocacy program, which is delivered by children’s charity Barnados.

Kent Police are currently reviewing each allegation and have begun an investigation.