A High Court judge has ruled for the first time that the use of restraint in privately run institutions housing juvenile offenders was unlawful. It is thought the practice was widespread in such centres for over a decade.
The judicial review case was brought by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) to challenge justice secretary Ken Clarke's refusal to contact former detainees about their treatment whilst in detention between 1998 and 2008.
Mr Justice Foskett said that government agencies had failed to stop the unlawful use of restraint against large numbers of children held in centres run by G4S (formerly Group 4 Security) and Serco.
However, he stopped short of ordering the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, to write to the thousands of offenders detained at the time to inform them that they may be entitled to compensation.
"The children and young persons sent to secure training centres were sent there because they had acted unlawfully and to learn to obey the law, yet many of them were subject to unlawful actions during their detention," said the judge.
He went on to say that the case had shone a light into a corner which might otherwise have remained in the dark. He described the decade-long abuse of children in custody as a "sorry tale".
The legal battle follows a second inquest which was held last year into the tragic death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood. Mr Rickwood was found hanging in his room at Hassockfield secure training centre in 2004.
The inquest uncovered use of 'distraction' restraint techniques, involving delivery of a sharp blow to the nose or ribs or pulling back of the child's thumb. The practices were suspended in 2007, and were then banned in 2008.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Foskett concluded that it was highly likely that large numbers of children were unlawfully restrained using such techniques. He said it was unclear why this practice was allowed to continue for so long with apparently few complaints from victims.
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