Out-of-court settlement reached over solitary confinement of teenager in Feltham YOI

Amrit Virdi
Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The government has agreed to pay £31,500 in compensation to a young man who was subjected to “inhumane or degrading treatment” in a London young offender institution as a teenager.

It took seven years for AB to receive compensation. Picture: josefkubes/ Adobe Stock
It took seven years for AB to receive compensation. Picture: josefkubes/ Adobe Stock

The claimant, identified as AB in court documents, was locked alone in his cell for more than 23 hours a day for at least the first 55 days of his detention in Feltham. He was said to have had serious mental health problems.

During his time at Feltham between December 2016 and February 2017, when he was 15 years old, he received no education and had no contact with other children, only being allowed out of his cell for 30 minutes a day to exercise, shower or use the phone.

The seven-year legal battle came to an end when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided to strike out AB’s application because a friendly settlement was reached as the UK government agreed to pay one of the largest sums on record as part of such a settlement.

The government fought against AB’s claim at every stage of the process, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, claiming that there was a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

The High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court denied the Article 3 breach initially which meant that the case was taken to the ECHR.

Andrea Coomber KC, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “In the seven years since, we have seen four Prime Ministers, seven Justice Secretaries and 10 prisons ministers, but the government has refused repeatedly to acknowledge that this shameful solitary confinement of a boy with complex needs amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment – until now.

"Prison is no place for a child. Now that this case is over, and as AB begins the next chapter in his life, we urge ministers to come forward with a plan to ensure that no more children suffer in this way.”

On the decision and his experience, AB said: “It shouldn’t have taken them that long, and for them to have changed their mind at the last minute, it is not fair. Separation is horrible. For rehabilitation and communication, people skills are a big thing. By them not letting me see children, taking that away, it is hindering your potential to stay out when you get out.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Separation can be necessary in some cases to prevent someone seriously hurting themselves or others but we accept there was a breach in this particular case.

"We are overhauling education services and providing tailored mental health support to give every child in our care the tools to turn their backs on crime for good.”

The case coincided with multiple reports throughout the seven years, including the HM Inspectorate of Prisons finding in 2020 that some children in prisons were only able to leave their cells for 15 minutes a day due to Covid-19 restrictions at the height of the pandemic. 

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