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Monday, 26 March 2018

Abuse case against staff members at scandal-hit G4S youth jail collapses

Written by Flora Thompson

A court case brought against four staff accused of threatening and assaulting children at a scandal-hit G4S-run youth jail has collapsed.

Team leaders Anthony Dance, 28, Gareth Evans, 27, Matthew Cunningham, 37, and duty operations manager Christopher Lomax, 36, were charged with misconduct in a public office after a journalist went undercover at Medway Secure Training Centre in Rochester, Kent, in 2015.

Footage secretly filmed by Robert Padmore, who managed to get a job at the centre, was broadcast on the Panorama programme and won a Bafta, leading to a police investigation into the conduct of staff at the centre.

Evans and Lomax were acquitted of two charges each of misconduct. Dance was found not guilty of one count and the jury failed to reach a verdict on a second.

The 12 also failed to reach a verdict on the count Cunningham faced.

The news can be reported for the first time after restrictions in the case were lifted following a legal challenge by the Press Association.

The verdicts were returned on March 9 at Maidstone Crown Court after 31 hours and 34 minutes of deliberations.

Judge Jeremy Carey ruled the order be lifted at a hearing on Monday afternoon after Edward Franklin, prosecuting, told the court after "careful consideration" and "reflection" the CPS would not be seeking a retrial of Dance and Cunningham.

During the two-month trial, Mr Padmore gave evidence and told the court he saw staff assault teenagers and use "unnecessary force" to restrain them during his 39 shifts as a training centre assistant at the youth jail.

Some of the alleged incidents had not been filmed on camera and were based on testimony from trainees - the term used to describe children at the youth jail.

Barristers defending the four argued that other incidents did not constitute serious misconduct.

Dance, of Hailsham, East Sussex, was acquitted of misreporting an incident at the centre in official paperwork and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on allegations that he assaulted and threatened inmates between October 1 and December 30 2015.

The jury were also unable to reach a verdict on accusations that Cunningham, of Gillingham, Kent, assaulted and threatened trainees between February 1 and December 30 2015.

Evans, of Rochester, was cleared of assaulting and threatening two inmates on October 22 2015.

Duty operations manager Lomax, of Chatham, Kent, was acquitted of assaulting and threatening a trainee on October 22 and November 5 2015.

Mr Padmore was arrested in December on his return to the UK from Australia after the CPS applied to the court to issue a warrant because it was not believed he would "voluntarily comply" with a witness summons to ensure his attendance at the trial, a CPS spokeswoman said.

She added: "Mr Padmore did attend the trial and gave evidence as required. At the conclusion of his evidence, Mr Padmore provided a fulsome apology to the court and, in light of this, the judge did not take any further action in relation to any possible contempt of court."

Entering formal not guilty verdicts for Dance and Cunningham on Monday, Judge Carey told the court it was "important to emphasise" that the Panorama programme had no bearing on the trial and the footage broadcast was not part of the evidence relied upon by the prosecution.

He said: "It was a very difficult and sensitive case."

Awarding commendations to the police officers in the case, he added that the allegations were investigated "thoroughly to the highest standard".

G4S held the contract to run Medway Secure Training Centre from 1998 to 2016.

In January 2016 it emerged that seven members of staff were suspended amid the allegations and four were sacked.

Paul Cook, the company's managing director of children's services, apologised and said he was "appalled" by the Panorama footage.

The director of the youth centre, Ralph Marchant, quit over the scandal.

In May that year, the Government announced it would take over the running of the facility, and the following month Ofsted rated the site inadequate after it emerged that inmates had access to pornography.

By September, eight staff were charged including Dance, Lomax, Cunningham and Evans.

Rebecca Harold, of Maidstone, Kent, denied common assault and her case was thrown out because it was "so weak", the BBC reported in November 2016.

Team leaders James Beech, of Sittingbourne, Kent, and Jonathan Kane, of Gillingham, were cleared in June last year of charges of misconduct in public office after it was found there was insufficient evidence against them.

Peter Scott, of Gravesend, Kent, admitted taking photographs and making recordings inside the prison and was ordered by magistrates to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.

The facility, now run by HM Prison and Probation Service, can accommodate around 70 children aged 12 to 17 who have been remanded in custody while awaiting trial or have been given a custodial sentence on conviction.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c0 Gareth Fuller / PA Wire.