Youth jail manager hits out at BBC over Panorama report after court case fails
Matthew Cunningham was sacked following the documentary but has since been cleared of any wrongdoing at a crown court trial.
A youth jail manager has criticised the BBC, claiming he is “on the verge of bankruptcy” after being sacked when allegations of abuse at a scandal-hit G4S-run youth jail surfaced in a Bafta-winning Panorama programme.
Matthew Cunningham spoke out after being cleared of any wrong-doing following a two-month trial.
The 37-year-old was one of four men charged with misconduct in a public office after being accused of threatening and assaulting children at the Medway Secure Training Centre in Rochester, Kent, in 2015.
Footage secretly filmed by undercover reporter Robert Padmore, who managed to get a job at the centre, was broadcast on the Panorama programme and prompted a police investigation.
But the trial of team leaders Mr Cunningham, Anthony Dance, 28, Gareth Evans, 27, and duty operations manager Christopher Lomax, 36, collapsed after the jury failed to reach verdicts on two counts and found the defendants not guilty on all other charges.
The verdicts were returned at Maidstone Crown Court on March 9, but the news could not be published until Monday afternoon when reporting restrictions were overturned and prosecutors confirmed there would not be a re-trial.
The jury were unable to reach a verdict on accusations Mr Cunningham, of Gillingham, Kent, assaulted and threatened trainees between February 1 and December 30, 2015 so Judge Jeremy Carey entered a formal verdict of not guilty.
I liked my job, I had been there eight years and I did nothing wrong Medway manager Matthew Cunningham
Speaking to the Press Association, married father Mr Cunningham said: “The show was broadcast and the next day I was fired without any notice, and arrested the day after that.
“I’ve not been able to get a job, I’m on the verge of bankruptcy. I’ve had depression and anxiety since.
“I liked my job, I had been there eight years and I did nothing wrong.”
He accused the BBC of “shocking editing” and claimed the programme lacked facts or context.
He said he is considering legal action and accused G4S of treating him unfairly but wants to move on with his life.
Mr Padmore told the trial he saw staff assault teenagers and use “unnecessary force” to restrain them during his 39 shifts as a training centre assistant at the youth jail.
He was arrested in December on his return to the UK from Australia after the CPS applied for a warrant because it was feared he would not “voluntarily comply” with a witness summons to attend the trial and give evidence.
But when he did attend and gave a “fulsome apology”, he was not pursued for contempt of court, a Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman said.
Some of the alleged incidents were not filmed and were based on testimony from trainees – the term used to describe children at the youth jail.
Barristers defending the four argued other incidents did not constitute serious misconduct.
Mr Dance, of Hailsham, East Sussex, was acquitted of misreporting an incident at the centre in official paperwork and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on allegations that he assaulted and threatened inmates between October 1 and December 30, 2015 so a formal not guilty verdict was entered.
Mr Evans, of Rochester, was cleared of assaulting and threatening two inmates on October 22, 2015.
Duty operations manager Mr Lomax, of Chatham, Kent, was acquitted of assaulting and threatening a trainee on October 22 and November 5, 2015.
Judge Carey said it was “important to emphasise” the 30-minute Panorama programme was not relied on by the prosecution as evidence, adding: “It was a very difficult and sensitive case.”
Awarding commendations to the police officers in the case, he added the allegations were investigated “thoroughly to the highest standard”.
A BBC spokeswoman stood by the allegations made in the programme, adding: “There is a serious case review underway, prompted by our investigation, looking at the lessons to be learned. That would not have happened without BBC Panorama’s investigation and our undercover reporter’s work and we remain committed to investigative journalism.”
In January 2016 it emerged seven members of staff were suspended amid the allegations and four were sacked.
Paul Cook, the company’s managing director of children’s services, apologised and said he was “appalled” by the Panorama footage. The director of the youth centre, Ralph Marchant, quit over the scandal.
In May that year, the Government announced it would take over the running of the facility.
By September, eight staff were charged including Mr Dance, Mr Lomax, Mr Cunningham and Mr Evans.
Two others were cleared last year after it was found there was insufficient evidence against them and another case was thrown out in 2016.
The facility, now run by HM Prison and Probation Service, can accommodate around 70 children aged 12 to 17 who have been remanded in custody while awaiting trial or have been given a custodial sentence on conviction.
G4S – which held the contract to run Medway Secure Training Centre from 1998 to 2016 – has been contacted for comment.