'Cover-up' allegations in youth prison system over jail's use of restraint

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Leaked documents reveal Youth Justice Board concerns over failures by management at Hindley YOI and the National Offender Management Service to properly investigate restraint cases against young people.

Incident in question at Hindley YOI has been the subject of five investigations and a probe by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. Picture: Alamy
Incident in question at Hindley YOI has been the subject of five investigations and a probe by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. Picture: Alamy

Documents leaked to CYP Now have called into question the credibility of a series of investigations into restraint incidents in youth custody, amid claims of a management "cover-up".

The papers, which include unpublished investigation reports and high-level correspondence between the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, highlight concerns that complaints relating to restraint were not properly probed.

The source of the leak alleges a "cover-up ... right at the top".

The concerns relate to an incident at Hindley young offender institution (YOI) in 2011 in which a young offender suffered a broken bone.

The exact details of the restraint are contested. For legal reasons, and to protect the identity of the young man involved, we do not reveal the full details of the case or the names of the officers involved.

The young person claimed that one of the officers involved had also been responsible for several other inmate injuries during separate restraint incidents at the establishment.

The documents passed to CYP Now show that although investigations were launched into both that incident and other restraint cases at the YOI, the YJB had concerns about the findings and subsequent action that was taken by authorities.

Two investigations – one conducted by Hindley YOI and another by NOMS – largely exonerated the prison officers involved. Meanwhile, a review of cases involving the officer at the centre of the restraint allegations - ordered in the immediate aftermath of the incident - was not conducted.

The findings of the investigations were strongly criticised by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), which conducted an independent probe that has not been published, but was among the documents passed to CYP Now.

It concluded that the use of force in the restraint was "not reasonable, necessary or proportionate" and questions the officers' claims that they tried to de-escalate the situation. It added that the internal investigation at Hindley was "insufficiently robust and challenging", and failed to "ask or answer key questions".

The PPO report reveals that the young man's solicitors had requested an apology for the incident itself and the "cover-up of the inappropriate use of force".

Solicitors acting on behalf of the young man are in the early stages of litigation over the case.

THE INVESTIGATIONS

A total of five investigations, relating directly or indirectly to the incident, were ordered by either Hindley YOI or NOMS:

  1. Nine days after the restraint, a safeguarding strategy meeting at Hindley (attended by representatives of police, social services, health and the acting manager of the safeguarding unit at the local safeguarding children board) ordered a fact-finding review of the incident. This was conducted internally at the YOI. It concluded that officers "managed a particularly volatile and aggressive young person correctly". The report made no recommendations against the officers.
  2. The safeguarding strategy meeting also commissioned an internal review into "the totality" of one of the officers' involvement with young people to report back within two weeks. However, this review did not take place.
  3. Later in the year, the regional deputy director of custody for the north west region of NOMS, Alan Scott, commissioned the young people's team at NOMS to review six restraint incidents at Hindley YOI between February 2009 and May 2011 that led to an actual or suspected bone fracture or break. This included the incident in question, referred to in documents as "incident five". The report provided a summary of five of the six incidents, but did not address incident five, stating that a further review into it had been commissioned and completed by the regional NOMS office.
  4. This review was carried out by the governor of an adult prison near Preston, Bryan McMillan. The final undated report concludes that the young man "was the author of this incident by not complying with instructions of the staff".
  5. In June 2012, a deputy governor at Hindley commissioned the YOI's head of operations to carry out an internal fact-finding review of a series of complaints and allegations against the officer in question.

YJB INVOLVEMENT

The NOMS reports into incident five and the six instances of restraint at the YOI were provided to the YJB a year after the incident. In May, Lee Spensley, head of partnerships at the YJB, wrote to Phil Boardman, head of the young people's group at NOMS, raising "a number of specific concerns" about McMillan's report for NOMS.

Spensley said the investigation appeared to focus on the details of the restraint in incident five rather than whether it was actually necessary. He added that the report "provides us with no assurance that this restraint has been investigated properly or that the threshold for restraint is set properly - both at the point of use by these officers, or of detection by managers at Hindley or in the NOMS region. Regrettably this follows an earlier post-incident fact-finding report that appears not to have been helpful".

Spensley also raised concerns about the review into six incidents at the YOI between February 2009 and May 2011, stating that from the information provided it appeared restraint was used to secure compliance and the restraints "appear to be unnecessary, with no evidence of meaningful interactions between staff and young people".

The YJB asked for CCTV footage of all six restraints, to review them.

On 14 September 2012, Boardman responded, stating that the review of the six incidents was "just one aspect of a comprehensive series of investigations carried out following the incidents referred to".

"All of the incidents resulted in child protection referrals to the local authority which of course required them to complete thorough and detailed investigations of their own," Boardman wrote.

"In a number of cases it also led to police involvement and investigation. Furthermore, local reviews were completed which added another layer of investigation and examination."

Boardman offered to provide CCTV footage of the incident in question, but said that "given the level of scrutiny already applied to the other five incidents, and as we have provided a detailed investigation report with clear recommendations for practice improvements, I do not feel it would be appropriate to also make this offer in regard to those incidents". He also provided an action plan developed in response to the two NOMS-ordered reviews.

It was not until 27 March this year, more than two years after the restraint incident, that the YJB was informed that the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had also carried out an investigation into the original incident.

"We are concerned to hear about the involvement of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) in looking into this restraint in that their involvement was not communicated to us, and that their report is now published and has negative findings," Spensley wrote.

PPO INVESTIGATION

The PPO report, conducted by deputy ombudsman Elizabeth Moody, is damning. It upholds the young person's complaint - concluding that there was no genuine attempt to de-escalate the situation before force was used.

"I do not consider that the use of force was reasonable, necessary or proportionate in the circumstances," Moody stated.

She went on to raise concerns about the way investigations into the incident were conducted.

"(The YOI) carried out an internal investigation with commendable speed," she said.

"Unfortunately this investigation was insufficiently robust or challenging and failed to ask or answer some key questions. This is a cause for concern."

She added that she was "very concerned" that a review ordered into other incidents involving the officer was not undertaken. The PPO report goes on to reveal that, up to and including the incident, the officer had in fact been involved with six "safeguards referrals". These included an alleged push in the chest, a young person suffering a fractured wrist during a planned removal, an alleged punch to the head during a "spontaneous restraint", and allegations of bullying. At the time of the incident the officer was on poor performance procedures "because of serious concerns about his performance and behaviour".

The report adds that following the incident there were a further nine safeguards referrals against the officer in the following year.

She also criticised the NOMS review of six restraint incidents at the YOI. "I find its analysis of whether force was justified or not extremely questionable," she wrote.

Moody made a total of 11 recommendations, including a call for an apology to be made to the young offender involved in the incident, and for a disciplinary investigation into the officer to be launched.

YJB LOSES PATIENCE

It was not until June this year that a copy of the PPO report was provided to the YJB. In the months leading up to this, the organisation had grown increasingly frustrated.

"Notwithstanding the dates of the actual restraints themselves we have corresponded for nearly 18 months about them and throughout this period we have not had any substantive responses to those issues we have raised with you," Spensley wrote to Boardman in May.

In reply to this, Boardman wrote: "Mistakes have clearly been made both during the incidents themselves and in the post incident responses, with the scope of the review, depth of analysis and quality of reporting involved in each investigation varying considerably.

"There is also significant divergence of opinion in the findings and recommendations contained in each. You have raised particular concerns in relation to the independent review of 'incident five' which, with hindsight, I have to agree should have had a much wider scope. I also share your concern that the depth and quality of analysis should have been much greater."

Boardman stated that a number of actions had been taken - including a reminder to staff at the YOI to adhere fully to prison service orders when using force, and refresher training for staff involved with the incidents. He said a further review, due to be undertaken in July this year by a governor from another region - was due to be carried out.

He added that there had been a national direction for NOMS staff to specifically check for child protection concerns linked to restraint, and said the YJB would be permitted to view CCTV footage of all six incidents.

On 11 June, NOMS supplied PPO reports on the incidents, with Boardman explaining in a letter that the "established practice" is that PPO reports are only shared with the government and deputy director of custody of the establishment concerned.

Spensley responded on 28 June stating that the PPO reports were "disturbing to read" and raised concerns that NOMS had not responded to PPO requests for information about investigations into the incident.

"External organisations, pressure groups with an interest in restraint, and the wider public, without having the benefit of our lengthy correspondence on these issues, may readily draw the conclusion that this part of the NOMS is doing nothing more that attempting to cover-up malpractice," he wrote.

"I would be grateful if you could confirm to me that this is the wrong conclusion to draw."

A week later, on 5 July, Spensley wrote again to Boardman to "clarify" his comments, stating: "It was certainly not my intention to imply that the YJB held the view that malpractice was present."

Shortly prior to the clarification letter, a series of emails were exchanged between Alan Tallentire, a deputy director at the Ministry of Justice, and Ray Hill, director of secure accommodation and deputy chief executive at the YJB. In these, Tallentire says a draft of the letter sent on 5 July should, in his view, be revised to make a direct apology to Alan Scott, who commissioned the review of the six restraint incidents at Hindley on behalf of NOMS.

"That's because the content of the first letter quite clearly infers he has been involved in/organised a cover-up," he said.

Tallentire went on to say that he anticipated that the "lessons learned review" would identify lessons both for NOMS and the YJB. "We should take those lessons on board and draw a line under this," he added.

"There will always be differences of opinion between investigators and the PPO. In this case it also includes police and local authorities who have also investigated the incidents."

A spokesman at the Prison Service, which manages prisons on behalf of NOMS, said: "This case is subject to ongoing litigation and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time."

The YJB declined to comment.

HINDLEY YOI AND THE USE OF RESTRAINT

HMP/YOI Hindley has come under scrutiny a couple of times in recent years.

In January 2012, 17-year-old Jake Hardy took his own life at the Wigan prison and in April this year the Prisons Inspectorate raised concerns about safety at the establishment.

Inspectors reported that, on average, there was a fight or assault almost every day and the use of force by prison staff was "very high". This was despite Hindley only being around a third full at the time of the inspection.

The watchdog also highlighted "persistent, consistent and credible" complaints about the abusive behaviour of a small number of officers at the prison. The inspectors also reported that investigations into some alleged incidents of bullying were not sufficiently rigorous.

The report noted that as of November 2012, there had been 71 child protection referrals from the facility since the start of 2012, including 27 concerning staff or the use of restraint.

Nationally, the use of restraint against young prisoners is on the rise.

The trend conflicts with the government's pledge to reduce its use in the wake of an independent review published in 2009 following the death of two boys in separate restraint incidents.

A new restraint system, announced in July last year, is being introduced to the youth secure estate.

It focuses on so-called "de-escalation" techniques to avoid the need to use restraint in the first place.

EXPERT VIEW: Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform

"Every tale of the mistreatment of children at the hands of the Prison Service is truly terrible - for the children themselves, their families and for individuals who have to witness it. More tragic, however, is the fact these cases are far from surprising.

"That's why the Howard League has argued that the Prison Service is incapable of looking after children. Too many children have died, have been injured during restraint, go hungry and are cooped up all day with nothing to do. No wonder the majority commit more mayhem on release. Children should not be placed in prisons.

"No matter how many layers of monitoring and protective bodies are in place to protect children in custody, children are let down time and again. These are sticking plasters to cover a broken arm.

"The Independent Monitoring Boards, comprising members of the public and ostensibly there to protect inmates, can become so intertwined with the governance of individual institutions that too often they gloss over profound failings. Sometimes they do their job properly. Sometimes they don't. But children behind bars deserve more than pot luck in the quality of their oversight. How can IMBs tolerate the levels of violence seen at children's prisons like Feltham?

"Equally, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) is designed to deal with adults and is overstretched and under-resourced. It gets clogged up with complex individual complaints from long-term adult men, letting nothing else through the net.

"A year ago, the Howard League threatened the PPO with legal action, forcing it to investigate three cases of restraint in children's prisons, involving one boy who suffered a serious injury. We are still waiting to hear back.

"As its name suggests, the National Offender Management Service exists to punish - and it has neither the ethos nor competency to care for children in a good and safe environment. The overuse of restraint and solitary confinement are clear symptoms of that wider fact. So too is the use of Young Offender Institutions, which differ from adult prisons in no meaningful way other than the age of the people they keep behind bars.

"There is no point in trying to make something inherently unworkable function. Prison is no place for a child. The tiny number of children behind bars who might require custody rather than a community sentence should be placed in small supportive institutions that exist solely to help rebuild their fractured lives. This would protect against abuse, create fewer victims in the future and, in the long-run, create a more affordable youth justice system."

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