Thursday, 6 February 2014

'Abuse turned me from a naughty boy into a violent criminal'

The Northern Echo: STILL SCARRED: Rod Jones, who was sent to Medomsley, in background, as a teenager  
STILL SCARRED: Rod Jones, who was sent to Medomsley, in background, as a teenager
Rod Jones, once an armed robber and minder to some of Britain’s most notorious gangsters, says it was the abuse he received in institutions, including the Medomsley Detention Centre, that set him on the road to serious criminality. Chris Webber heard his story
ROD JONES was never an angel, not even as a small boy. “I was naughty,” he admits, “I would pinch things, shoplift... but I was nothing out of the ordinary.”

He says it took abuse in approved schools, borstals, detention centres and even an adult prison when he was still only 13, to turn that naughty boy into a truly violent criminal.

The Middlesbrough-born 67-year-old proudly points to three decades of crime-free life, along with more than 20 years running his own charity, set up in memory of his beloved son who died in a car crash as an 18-year-old.

The tragedy led him to leave crime behind.

“This was always in me,” he says. “I always could have been all right, could have done good things given the right chances of a normal life.”

We talk for three hours in Mr Jones’ untidy van, parked on a muddy industrial unit on Stockton’s Portrack Lane Industrial Estate. We were meeting to discuss allegations of violence at Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett, which is under investigation after hundreds of allegations of abuse.

But as we talk, Mr Jones, who wears an impressively large Christian cross around neck, given to him in Bosnia during one of his aid trips, refers to something even darker, from even earlier in his life.

“I was at secondary school, the first year, and there was a teacher who would pick lads out and take them to his store room. He had this plywood paddle in there. He would put you across his knee and slap you across the backside, while holding you down and then feel your backside.”

He said this happened to most lads.

“One day he took me to the back store room.

It was to be the last time. He went further this time.” Rod describes a very serious sexual assault.

“I was incensed. I steamed out of there and threw chisels at him. He went off it and ran after me. I met up with two other lads in the school toilets and we ran away. I was 11 or maybe 12.”

Mr Jones and his friends jumped on the back of a wagon and ended up in Newcastle. They were caught with stolen tins of beans – “We didn’t even have a tin opener,” laughs Rod – and found themselves in court the next day.

Mr Jones had earlier been in trouble before for breaking into his school and causing damage on two or three occasions after the alleged assaults – a naive schoolboy attempt at revenge, he says. He would probably have been sent home, along with the two other boys, if not for the intervention of his father, who turned up to court and requested his son be sent to approved school. It’s a fact that distresses Mr Jones to this day. The magistrate agreed and the journey to even worse brutality and darkness began.

He was eventually sent to Castle Howard Approved School, a farm school, near Malton, North Yorkshire. The “school” had been founded in 1855 by the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders for the East and North Ridings of the County of York and the Town and County of Kingston upon Hull.

Responsibility for the school was assumed by Kingston upon Hull Corporation in 1936, initially by the Education Committee, and then, in 1948 by the Children’s Committee.

MR Jones says he still bears the scars of the whacks administered by staff, for no reason, to the back of the head.

He would still regularly escape and, when caught, had to suffer even worse beatings.

“They’d send the ‘hounds’, the older boys, to catch you and they’d whack you.”

One time, he made it all the way home, through the snow on the North York Moors, only to be sent all the way back and then ordered to stand in the snow until he collapsed.

That time he wound up with rheumatic fever and a welcome respite in hospital.

Still, he would escape. At 13 he broke out with an older boy, “a real bully”. That time they were caught with clothes, stolen to beat the cold, and were once again sent to magistrates in Hull. The school told the court they didn’t want them back and the police and social workers had nowhere for them. The magistrates told the boys that, “with great reluctance,” they would be sent to Armley Prison – an adult prison for some of the worst offenders in the country – as a temporary measure.

“They put you three to a cell, supposedly to stop homosexual activity, the idea was one would be a witness to the other two.

“But one time there was just me and the other lad. He was playing with himself on the other bunk. He came over to me, exposed, asking me to do things. I told him no. We started fighting, he was bigger than me, got the better of me...”

At that point Mr Jones, still a hard man, stops for a minute and lowers his voice to say the inevitable words that he was raped.

And yet his spirit was not broken. He complained, even told the governor. He got a transfer but no investigation took place. No one said: “I believe you.”

Not above administering his own justice, Mr Jones says he sought out his rapist many times.

“A job for these,” he says, clenching his fists and bringing them up to his angry face. Lucky for the rapist, Mr Jones never found him.

  • In tomorrow’s Northern Echo, Rod Jones tells of his terrifying time at Medomsley Detention Centre, where he says he admitted a crime he didn’t commit while in fear of his life.