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Secure training centre director quits amid abuse claims probe

Published 26/01/2016

Concerns were raised about Medway Secure Training Centre following revelations aired on the BBC's Panorama programme
Concerns were raised about Medway Secure Training Centre following revelations aired on the BBC's Panorama programme

The director of a G4S-run facility for young inmates which is at the centre of abuse and mistreatment allegations is stepping down following high-level criticism of its management.

Ralph Marchant is standing down with immediate effect at Medway Secure Training Centre in Rochester, Kent, but will remain employed by the private security firm, the Press Association can reveal.

It is understood there are no allegations relating to the conduct of Mr Marchant, who is being replaced on an interim basis by Ben Saunders - the director of the immigration removal centres at Gatwick.

The development came after Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said managerial oversight had failed to protect young people at the centre for inmates aged 12 to 17.

Inspectors have "significant concerns" about the facility following allegations of abuse and mistreatment of youngsters aired on the BBC's Panorama programme this month.

An undercover reporter captured footage showing staff mistreating and abusing inmates, and boasting about using inappropriate techniques to restrain youngsters.

Other allegations included claims that staff tried to hide their actions by ensuring they were beneath CCTV cameras or in areas not covered by them.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced the appointment of an independent improvement board to provide "increased oversight" at Medway.

G4S has also been ordered to put in place an improvement plan, which the board will oversee, Mr Gove added in a written ministerial statement.

Inspectors who visited the centre after the programme was broadcast found evidence of "targeted bullying of vulnerable boys by a small number of staff in addition to the conditioning of new staff".

In a report published on Tuesday, Mr Hardwick recommended a commissioner be immediately established to provide extra oversight at the centre.

Body-worn cameras should also be used across all institutions holding children, with staff expected to record all incidents involving the use of force, he added.

The troubling claims at Medway come after Ofsted inspectors had praised the centre following an inspection in September 2014.

Its report noted: "The overall effectiveness of Medway Secure Training Centre to meet the needs of young people is judged good with outstanding features."

In the latest inspection, carried out on January 11, a small number of young inmates described some staff using "insulting, aggressive or racist language", inspectors found.

And staff failed at times to challenge poor behaviour, with some youngsters reporting feeling unsafe in areas not covered by CCTV cameras.

Mr Hardwick said: "Managerial oversight failed to protect young people from harm.

"Effective oversight is key to creating a positive culture that prevents poor practice happening and ensuring it is reported when it does."

Some of the concerns raised in the report were not confined to Medway or the secure training centre model, Mr Hardwick went on.

A high turnover of staff was a feature at Medway, reportedly in the region of 50% of the basic grade custody staff.

Mr Hardwick said appropriate staffing levels are now in place and extra independent oversight has been provided by the Youth Justice Board and Barnardo's advocates.

Other recommendations were for new inspections of all secure training centres to see whether the concerns raised at Medway are widespread.

Shadow prisons and probation minister Jo Stevens said the Government should put all G4S-run prisons, STCs and detention centres into special measures.

She said G4S contracts should be reviewed and that the company should not be considered for bidding while management teams are sent in to work alongside staff.

The HMIP and Ofsted visit this month saw 20 young people spoken to out of 55 held at Medway.

Since the Panorama broadcast, five men have been arrested by Kent Police on suspicion of either child neglect or assault. All have been bailed to April.

G4S has sacked five members of staff, two others identified in the programme have been suspended and one other has been removed from operational duty as inquiries continue.

One of the employees who has been suspended works for Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL).

Lawyers at Leigh Day are dealing with a number of inquiries from people alleging abuse relating to Panorama's disclosures.

Peter Neden, regional president of G4S UK and Ireland, said: "As part of a programme of measures to respond to recent events at the Medway Secure Training Centre, we are committed to supporting an independent review commissioned today by the Ministry of Justice.

"We welcome today's announcement by the Secretary of State that he has appointed a team of independent experts to conduct the review.

"We also announce the appointment of Ben Saunders as the interim Centre Director for Medway STC. Ben is a qualified social worker with extensive experience of working with vulnerable people and will give the ministry's independent improvement board our full support."

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