Three former Prison Officers jailed for abusing Detention Centre inmates

Three prison officers who subjected vulnerable teenagers to daily abuse at a detention centre in 1970s and 1980s have been jailed after a judge said their behaviour breached the public’s trust.

Durham Police carried out a huge investigation involving 1,800 witnesses into what happened at Medomsley Detention Centre near Consett, from its opening in the 1960s to its closure in 1988.

Christopher Onslow, 73, was convicted of misconduct in a public office as well as individual acts of violence against youths and was jailed for eight-and-a-half years at Teesside Crown Court.

He smacked one inmate around the head with muddy football boots which the teenager had not cleaned properly, leaving lasting scars, and caused another to fall from a cargo net and break his back by throwing rocks at the terrified, overweight boy when he got stuck.

John McGee, 75, was jailed for two years and 10 months following his conviction for misconduct in a public office and assault.

Standing more than 6ft tall, he punched a new, 5ft inmate in the face, who then soiled himself in fear, and McGee forced him to bunny-hop down a corridor to clean himself up.

Kevin Blakely, 67, was convicted after a trial of two counts of misconduct in a public office and was jailed for two years and nine months.

Judge Howard Crowson said pushing, shoving and even giving inmates a clip round the ear would not have constituted misconduct in the 1970s and 1980s.

But he said young offenders were regularly punched and stamped on as part of a regime of fear at Medomsley.

Two other officers, who were also convicted following a series of three trials, will be sentenced later this month.

The judge praised the victims’ bravery and the police for taking on the massive case, decades after the violent officers would have thought they had got away with their abuse.

He said: “For many years trainees from Medomlsey Detention Centre shared a common sense of grievance.

“Many had experienced brutality and violence at the hands of prison officers, but nobody wanted to hear about it.

“Those who had the courage to complain when they were released were either ignored or warned that to pursue the complaint would risk a return to Medomsley – nobody wanted to risk that.”

Judge Crowson said the country felt it easier to believe such institutions were places of appropriate discipline “where unruly boys were taught to behave properly”.

He said: “In those days any complaint was likely to be regarded as further evidence that the trainee was anti-social, that he had not learned his lesson and was complaining about appropriate treatment.”

He said the defendants, now elderly men, had been protected for 40 years by that false view, and by a culture of silence from colleagues, even those who were not violent themselves.

The wardens’ violence caused injury but its main aim was to “crush the will of trainees, to terrify them and make them feel powerless”.

He said it was only through the commitment and persistence of the victims and the dedication of the police that enough evidence was gathered to paint the true picture of what happened there.

Toby Hedworth QC, defending Onslow, said either the leadership at Medomlsey was lacking, causing lower ranked officers to believe what they were doing was right, or the leaders were now going unpunished and it was only the “foot-soldiers” who were facing the consequences.

He said: “That regime is now being examined in the light of wholly different values and attitudes from those which pertained in the 1970s and early 1980s.”

He said Onslow was the principal carer for his wife, and he had a much longer period of service working in prisons after Medomsley without any issue.

Caroline Goodwin QC, representing McGee, said he had many years of public service, adding: “He is a proud man and stands tall at every opportunity.”

Simon Kealey QC, for Blakely, said he had worked with recovering drug and drink addicts for years after finishing in the prison service where he had an unblemished career.

Following the sentencing, Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Green, of Durham Police, said the men had “abused their position to cause immeasurable suffering and lifelong damage to their victims”.

He added that more alleged victims of offences at Medomsley had come forward after the former officers’ convictions.

Of the victims whose allegations have already resulted in prosecutions, he said: “It has taken a huge amount of courage for these men to tell police what happened to them and we have worked hard to ensure they are listened to and supported throughout the investigation and subsequent court process.”

Police shocked by scale of prison abuse claims

Medomsley detention centre

Detectives investigating sexual abuse at a detention centre have admitted they were shocked by the scale of the allegations after more than 500 potential victims were identified.

It was now thought an organised paedophile ring was operating in the 1970s and 1980s at Medomsley Detention Centre near Consett, County Durham.

Police announced in August they were starting a fresh investigation into abuse at the centre for young offenders who were mostly convicted of minor crimes.

In 2003 a previous police investigation led to the conviction of Neville Husband, a prison officer at the centre.

Husband was initially sent to jail for eight years after being found guilty of abusing five youngsters.

The publicity surrounding the trial then led to others coming forward and Husband was subsequently jailed for a further two years for these attacks.

After being released from prison he died from natural causes in 2010.

Now Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, leading a 70-strong team, has told the Guardian: “We always knew this would be a major inquiry but the scale of it, and the sheer number of victims who have come forward, has been a shock.”

Husband, who went on to become a church minister, was in charge of the kitchens at Medomsley and would single out youths for sexual abuse, particularly those who had been in care and did not have strong family ties.

His former colleague Leslie Johnson, a storeman, was jailed for six years in 2005 for sexual offences. He has also since died.

Police originally believed the pair were operating alone, but that view has changed after speaking to many victims.

Mr Goundry told the Guardian: “From the statements, there is growing evidence to suggest there was an organised paedophile ring operating in Medomsley.”

He said the experience of many of the victims, sent for detention for relatively petty crimes, had ruined the rest of their lives.

The inquiry team was also investigating physical abuse of young detainees.

Jail Sex Abuse Claims Now Over 140

Paedophile Prison Officer Neville Husband
Paedophile Prison Officer Neville Husband

A police investigation into a young offenders’ centre in County Durham has now heard claims from more than 140 people that they were abused between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s.

Detectives announced in August they were starting a new investigation into allegations young men sent to Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett, were abused by staff, which led to 83 people coming forward.

That number has now increased to 143 and police chiefs said detectives were left shaken by some of the accounts they heard.

Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, of Durham Constabulary, said: “We said from the outset this was going to be a long and complex investigation which we fully expect will last at least another 12 months.

“So far we have been contacted by more than 140 former inmates of Medomsley, who have reported they were victims of either sexual or physical abuse at the centre between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s.

“The accounts we have heard have been horrific and have shaken some very experienced detectives who are working on this.

“It is obviously distressing to hear from so many victims, but at the same time I am relieved they have shown the confidence in us to get in touch and allow us to help them.

“Our efforts are directed not just at establishing what happened in Medomsley over that period but ensuring the victims are left in a better place and get the support and advice they need.”

In 2003, a previous police investigation called Operation Halter led to the conviction of Neville Husband, a prison officer at the centre.

Husband was initially jailed for eight years after being found guilty of abusing five youngsters.

The publicity surrounding the trial then led to others coming forward and Husband was subsequently jailed for a further two years for these attacks.

After being released from prison he died from natural causes in 2010.

Medomsley detention centre