Durham police are investigating sex abuse of young boys by staff at Medomsley detention centre and have estimated there may be as many as 500 victims. The 70 strong team of officers is looking at historic abuse at the child jail of boys from the 1970s to the 1980s. It appears that Neville Husband and other staff may have run an organised ring of men who raped and abused young boys in the detention centre and that it could have been known to other staff who turned a blind eye.
The problem is that the local police are only able to investigate what happened in this one institution and refer to other forces any allegations about abuse at other prisons.
In the 1990s the Howard League revealed a brutal regime of violence that was both extreme and routine in Portland prison for boys where Neville Husband, the key perpetrator of abuse in Medomsley, had worked previously. Our concern was that the violence was happening at the time and we campaigned to put a stop to it. The governor was moved, staff were suspended and some were dismissed. Children were removed from the prison so it now holds older teenagers only. The police investigated but took no criminal charges against staff. The evidence is that the prison is a different, safer place today.
I spoke to an investigating officer in Durham police to express my concern that there may have been a pattern of abuse and a paedophile ring operating for many years inside Portland prison but was told I had to talk to Dorset police. Durham police said that if they get allegations made by individuals about abuse they experienced at other prisons they pass it on to the local police forces round the country. This means that patterns are missed. That is what happened with Jimmy Saville.
I don't know if the violence inflicted on boys in Portland for decades was accompanied by sexual abuse. Put simply, no-one ever asked. When the Howard League started investigating the regime of beatings in Portland, dozens of men came forward to say that they had experienced violence in the jail decades previously. However, the question about sexual abuse was not raised. Twenty years ago people were less willing to talk about being sexually abused. Many of the men who talked to us were ashamed about having been beaten by staff and suffered the trauma for the rest of their lives.
As Neville Husband worked in the kitchen at Portland and it was from the kitchens at Medomsley that he ran his paedophile ring, raping young boys in the jail daily, it would seem possible that he started at Portland. The police should at least ask the question.
Frances Crook is chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the oldest penal reform charity in the United Kingdom.