Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

21.  Memorandum by Mark Dawes, Director & National Coach Tutor, NFPS Ltd

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".

Martin Luther King (1963)

  On Wednesday 13 June 2007 the Ministry of Justice laid before Parliament a Statutory Instrument (SI 2007, No 1709) that seeks to amend the rules governing the use of force within Secure Training Centres (STCs). The Ministry of Justice is proposing to broaden the circumstances in which children can be forcibly restrained. The Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007 were laid before Parliament on 13 June and come into effect on 6 July. They enable a trainee to be removed from association in the interests of good order and discipline; and permit physical restraint to be used to ensure good order and discipline.

  The YJB have clarified their position on the submission of the new SI by stating that "Custody officers have the duty to ensure good order and discipline (as set out in the primary legislation the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). However, the rules governing the use of restraint in STCs do not include a provision empowering custody officers to use restraint to maintain "good order and discipline". This contrasts with the situation in other environments such as young offender institutions (YOIs) under Prison Service rules, and in schools (2006 Education and Inspections Act s93)."

  Now I think we can all agree that it is important to maintain good order and discipline, especially in a prison or other secure establishments, to prevent greater harms occurring, ie, riots or large scale fights that would expose children, young people and indeed the staff to the risk of harm and/or serious damage to property. That would be consistent with the law. However, the proposed SI could lead to an increased risk of children being injured if the Government merely implement this SI without a full review of the current training that staff receive in physical restraint and how that training is managed as part of a quality management system. Therefore, the question we have to ask is, is this a necessary piece of legislation or is it another beaurocratic attempt at legislative enforcement in absence of competent training? In short, will it make a difference or will kids still continue to be at risk of dying in secure estates?

  We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this amendment to the STC rules come almost immediately after inquests into the deaths of two children who were detained in Secure Establishments. One, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, died in April 2004 while being restrained by three adult males in Rainsbrook STC, Northants. The other, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, hung himself hours after being manhandled at Hassockfield STC, near Durham, in August the same year.

  Gareth Myatt was restrained for refusing an order from staff to clean a sandwich toaster. For that the 15 year-old teenager, who weighed less than 45kg (just over 7 stones), was restrained by staff using a "double seated embrace" technique, which resulted in the young boy dying of positional asphyxia.

  During the inquest into Gareth Myatt's death, the jury heard that the Youth Justice Board (the organization responsible for overseeing the youth justice system in England and Wales monitoring the STC's and to ensure that custody for young people is safe) had been warned about the excessive use of force at Rainsbrook but had failed to take action. As a result jury's verdict, delivered last week, declared that the YJB's failure to respond to the warning contributed to Myatt's death.

  For Adam Rickwood, the youngest child ever to die in penal custody in the UK, it was his refusal to go to his room that got him into trouble.

  Adam was found hanging in his room in Hassockfield STC at around midnight on 8 April 2004. In the hours preceding his death he was subjected to restraint by four male officers. During the restraint they used a "nose distraction" technique, described as a "karate-like chop" to his nose. This was said to have caused Adam to have a nose-bleed for an hour. There was no suggestion that any of the criteria set out in the STC Rules had been met that could have justified Adam's restraint. After his death a "statement" was found in his room in which he described in his own words what had happened to him:

  "My [Adam Rickwood's] Statement [to the authorities]

    On the 8th August at approx 6.50pm, I was sat at the table on the wing 2 Bravo. And my friend was messing about, so he was put in his cell for 30 minutes (time out). When my friend was in his cell he asked me to go over to his door. When I went over he slid a piece of paper under the door and asked me to give it to a female member of staff.

    When I gave the paper to her she told me to get in my room. I asked why and she said "Just go in" then at that point I refused because there were no explicit reason for this. Then she called for first response (assistance from other staff). When the other staff came they all jumped on me and started to put my arms up my back and hitting me in the nose. I then tried to bite one of the staff because they were really hurting my nose. My nose started bleeding and swelled up and it didn't stop bleeding for about one hour and afterwards it was really sore. When I calmed down I asked them why they hit me in the nose and jumped on me. They said it was because I wouldn't go in my room so I said what gives them the right to hit a 14-year-old child in the nose and they said it was restraint."

  Following the increase in concern about children in residential care during the early 1990's, the Government responded by commissioning a number of enquiries (there were 10 public enquiries between 1990 and 1996) including the Utting report in 1991 and the Warner report in 1992. In response to the exposure of this large-scale institutional abuse of children and young people Government departments have issued extensive guidance aimed at promoting and protecting children's rights. The Utting report concluded that the implementation of the Children Act 1989 (in 1991) would be sufficient to prevent the likes of Pindown happening again.

  Interestingly enough, in 2003, the year before Rickwood died, staff at Hassockfield, which holds 40 children, had used restraint 972 times!!! That equates to 24.3 restraints per child per year or 81 restraints a month!!

  However, the proposed changes in the new Statutory Instrument (SI 2007, No 1709) which seeks to amend the rules governing the use of force within Secure Training Centres (STCs), seem to have been devised to sanction the use of the circumstances that would give rise to the use of restraint that would not be allowed under the Children Act 1989. As such there is an issue here of conflicting rights should the new proposed Statutory Instrument be implemented. Furthermore, the new propose Statutory Instrument seems to fly in the face of a recent ruling by Mr. Justice Munby in 2002 regarding how the Children's Act applies to Young Offenders Institutions.


  In Volume 4, Section 1.83 of the Children's Act it states:

    "Physical restraint should be used rarely and only to prevent a child harming himself or others or from damaging property. Force should not be used for any other purpose, nor simply to secure compliance with staff instructions."


  In November 2002, the High Court ruled that the Children Act 1989 also applies to children in Young Offender Institutions and such children therefore have the same rights to have their welfare protected as others up to the age of eighteen.

  Mr. Justice Munby's decision was in response to a legal challenge brought by the Howard League for Penal Reform who challenged the Home Office's insistence that Young Offender Institutions were immune from the Children Act. The Howard League said that segregation and physical restraint inflicted under harsh regimes contributed to high levels of self-harm and suicide. According to the Howard League young people in prisons are routinely treated in ways which would trigger child protection investigations in other settings.

  The proposed Statutory Instrument submitted by the Ministry of Justice also seems to challenge the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in particular, Article 19 which states:

    "Children shall be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of their parents or of any other person. Child protection should include support for the child and their carers, prevention, identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment, judicial involvement, and follow up of instances of child maltreatment."

  The proposed change by the Ministry of Justice basically flouts the protection offered by the Children's Act 1989 and Article 19 of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, both designed to protect children from state sanctioned abuse as well as placing a positive obligation on state authorities to do so.

  I would also go so far as to propose that the proposals, should they lead to more deaths that could have been prevented had this SI not been accepted, is a breach of Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 by a Government who has failed to uphold the basic right to life—an Absolute Right, which cannot be derogated against. Yet this is what the proposed SI will achieve.

  "The difference between a police state and a state where the police are efficient, but democratically controlled, is a mighty thin one."

Lord Scarman (report on the Brixton Riots, 1981)

  Proposing to amend the current legislation in relation to STC's and YOI's, basically contradicts Mr. Justice Munby's decision and the very reasons why the Children's Act, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act came into existence. If these proposals are allowed to be pushed through by an apathetic and inert society we are all guilty of allowing the state to sanction child abuse against some of society's most vulnerable children which is very possibly likely to lead to more restraint, damage and harm and ultimately more deaths. In short, it puts STC's and YOI's above the law. That itself is an injustice.

  As a result of concerns about unlawful practices that had emerged at the inquest, Bhatt Murphy solicitors, the lawyers for Adam's Rickwood's mother, wrote to the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and the Secretary of State for Justice to ensure that children in STCs were being treated in accordance with the law.

  At the inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood the YJB's lawyers accepted that the analysis of family lawyers was correct, namely that force used in order to ensure compliance with staff instructions for good order and discipline was unlawful.

  However, in response the YJB enclosed a letter that had been sent to STC's indicating that although presently restraint could not lawfully be used to ensure compliance with staff instructions that they were working with the Ministry of Justice to amend the rules and that changes to the STC rules were imminent. And on 13 June 2007, without consultation or any debate whatsoever, the Statutory Instrument (SI 2007, No 1709) which seeks to amend the rules governing the use of force and designed to dramatically widen the circumstances under which restraint can "lawfully" be used against children within Secure Training Centres, was laid in Parliament.

  Staff can only be as competent as the training and supervision given to them, and, it is possible that had the YJB done it's job properly, in monitoring and supervising the Secure Estates and responding to the concerns and warnings presented to them in the first place, they would not need to propose this new piece of legislation to make others accountable for their failings. In contrast they could have ensured that the staff were given the appropriate information, instruction, supervision and training (as required under current Health and Safety statute) and that the management were competent enough to have developed safer systems of work and safer working practices consistent with current legislation.

  That is of course provide that the YJB are competent at doing what they are supposed to do.

  Interestingly enough we e-mailed the YJB on the 21st March 2007 offering to make our services and our research resource to them in response to requests that we do so from a number of staff who work in secure estates who feel that the information we provide and deliver should be made available to the YJB.

  They respectfully declined our offer of assistance.

Mark Dawes

Director & National Coach Tutor—NFPS Ltd

8 August 2007

previous page contents

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 7 March 2008