A BBC Panorama programme shown earlier this month uncovered allegations of abuse of child prisoners at a young offenders centre.
The undercover investigation took place at the Medway Secure Training Centre in Rochester, Kent. Medway is managed by security firm G4S and is home to inmates aged between 12 and 17. These young people are supposed to be receiving rehabilitation and education, but the BBC investigation showed just how badly some of these young prisoners were being treated.
Prison staff were shown verbally bullying and physically abusing young prisoners. For example, one clip showed several officers restraining a 14-year old prisoner, with one of the officers putting his finger on the boy's windpipe as he complains that he cannot breathe.
The BBC reporter found that some staff were deliberately hiding their actions away from CCTV cameras, that some prisoners were being slapped and that some were routinely subject to foul language.
Following the programme, G4S suspended seven staff, saying it is shocked by the allegations and that it will thoroughly investigate child safeguarding procedures at Medway.
Kent Police confirmed they are aware of the allegations and said that inquiries are ongoing.
Claims Against G4S
G4S could be held responsible for the abuse of prisoners by staff at Medway.
Under the principle of "vicarious liability", employers can be liable for the actions their employees take when carrying out their duties. This is also true of anyone with whom the employer has a relationship "akin to employment".
Anyone who has been abused is entitled to pursue a personal injury claim through the civil courts. Although such civil claims can’t reverse any psychological damage, they always focus on the individual survivor and any compensation can help them access the support they need.
It could also be possible to bring a claim against G4S under human rights legislation, as G4S are a private body performing a state function. For example, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (enshrined in UK domestic law by way of the Human Rights Act) says people have the right to be free from torture, inhumane or degrading treatment. Article 14 protects against discrimination, so there could be potential claims for any racist or discriminatory language used against the young prisoners.
Anyone considering bringing a claim against G4S should seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.
Kim Harrison is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK. Kim specialises in abuse claims and is also the firm’s National Practice Development Leader for human rights.
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