Friday, 12 February 2016

Medomsley Detention Centre – Barriers to Justice

by David Greenwood

I have been involved with holding the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to account for the abuse of boys in the Medomsley Detention Centre since 2003 when a courageous man called Kevin Young asked me to look into his complaints of brutally violent sexual abuse by a Senior Prison Officer, when he was aged 17 and detained at Medomsley Detention Centre.

Kevin had “locked the memory of the sexual abuse at Medomsley in a metaphorical box” in his head and had managed to get through life successfully until 1999 when he had a chance encounter with his abuser, Neville Husband in the streets of York. This triggered Kevin’s memories of the abuse. The lid had well and truly come off his box of memories and he was unable to replace it. At that time he was in contact with the police regarding the abuse at another institution near Tadcaster and so asked the police to look into Neville Husband’s activities at Medomsley. A police investigation began which resulted in Husband’s first conviction in 2003.

I have named Kevin here as he has been willing to disclosure his identity from an early stage. In different ways I could be speaking about many other men who have been abused and psychologically tormented by the memories of abuse at Medomsley. As if it was not enough that boys entering Medomsley from the 60’s to the 80’s had to endure heavily physical abuse, we now know that 100’s and possibly 1000’s have been sexually abused whilst detained at Medomsley. Their treatment amounts to torture and is an issue which I have reported to the United Nations Committee on Torture which is currently in the process of examining the UK’s record on torture.

The general public in the UK maybe under the impression that reporting this type of crime and achieving Justice both in the Criminal Courts and the Civil Courts is relatively straight forward. You would assume that the police are on the side of victims of abuse and will readily treat them fairly and pursue allegations against alleged abusers. We now know that until recently the criminal justice system has proved either unwilling or unable to provide the kind of justice we would expect.

I have heard many counts of boys leaving Medomsley and tried to complain to the police in Durham or Newcastle at their local Police Stations, only to be told that the police refused to take their complaints or carry out any kind of investigation. This is an issue which Operation Seabrook is currently looking into.

Whilst the conviction of Husband in 2003 was to be welcomed, the depth of the investigation has to be criticised. These were extremely serious allegations of multiple abusers operating in a small detention centre with a large group of boys. The psychological effects of the local population have been immense and for the police to have failed until recently to carry out a thorough investigation suggests and unwillingness to confront the very real fear that the sexual abuse of boys at Medomsley Detention Centre was carried out and subsequently covered up in an organised way.

So we know that the police have put hurdles in the way of boys trying to complain about abuse at Medomsley. We also know from Kevin Young’s experience and having to take his case right through to the House of Lords with me in 2008 and that the Civil Justice System has operated against child sexual abuse complainants by attempting to impose time limits (which in my view are entirely unfair, given the subject matter and psychological effects this abuse has had on the victim).

We also know that even after the original criminal trial and the civil trail and the weight of evidence which emerged in the early 2000’s no-one at the Home Office thought it would be a good idea carry out a review of what had happened at Medomsley. The treatment of young offenders at Medomsley was shocking on many levels and was likely at some point to be explosive for Home Officer Ministers and the Prison Service. If it hasn’t already caused serious embarrassment to the Ministry of Justice, the Prison Service, Prison Officers association and Civil Servants, a light that will be shone on Medomsley by the Goddard Inquiry.

So we have seen various legal obstacles in the way of boys complaining about abuse at Medomsley but the overwhelming and most difficult obstacle for men who were abused at Medomsley is the feeling of shame and guilt which is generated by the sexual abuse itself. Psychologists tell us that most survivors of childhood sexual abuse don’t talk about their experience and those who do may be put off coming forward if they encounter the slightest sense that they not believed or supported.

All of these factors mean that although Durham Constabulary have announced recently that approximately 1,200 men who were at Medomsley have spoken to them, there are likely to be thousands more out there who have either locked their memories in a box like Kevin Young or who struggle day to say with the psychological fallout from their appalling treatment.

The Operation Seabrook is an opportunity for the police in the criminal justice system to demonstrate how well it can deal with survivors but we also need the Goddard Enquiry to explain to the nation how institutions who are entrusted with the care of vulnerable boys treated them so badly that they became a lost generation. We need to learn the lessons of the past so that we can better shape the future of these institutions. We also need to plough substantial sums of money into effective counselling and therapy.

David Greenwood. Solicitor