When a short sharp shock policy turns into mass sexual and physical abuse

While attention has been focused on a Westminster paedophile ring an extraordinary police investigation into a now closed young offenders institution in Durham is revealing the mass abuse of inmates.

No fewer than nearly 900 people  have come forward alleging physical and sexual abuse  at Medomsley young offenders institution in Durham  dating back to 1970s and 1980s  a decade or so after a trial did convict two people of abuse.in 2003.

The investigation was triggered after former prison officer Neville Husband was jailed for eight years for abusing five youths.Others coming forward and he was subsequently jailed for a further two years for other attacks.He died in 2010, after being released from prison.

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

But now I gather Durham Police  have traced 24 other people involved in the abuse – six of them have also since died – but  up to 18 people could well be charged – if the Crown Prosecution Service agrees they should face justice.

The abuse not only took place inside the closed institution but I gather inmates were taken off the premises across Durham to be physically and sexually abused.

If the case goes ahead it will be the largest number of people ever abused in one institution. There is also an interesting cross reference to Neville Husband’s previous job at Portland prison in Dorset..It is worth reading a blog by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform here linking issues at the two penal institutions.

Before  reporting restrictions severely limit what can be said – one common factor is emerging – many of the people who were abused at a time when the Thatcher government was enthusiastically pursuing under William Whitelaw the ” short sharp shock ” policy – a tough regime for petty offenders aimed at making them go straight.

I am sure Willie Whitelaw and Margaret Thatcher did not intend to promote sexual and physical abuse of young offenders – but what does appear to have happened is that the policy in this one institution became a licence for this  type of abuse.

In some sense the historic disclosures resonate with today’s government’s punitive views -pursued particularly by Chris Grayling, the current justice secretary- whether it is banning access to books for prisoners or the record suicides among young people in prisons.

If people are treated like dirt by politicians and are seen by society to be worthless – then those in charge of them might well be tempted to abuse them because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. Given Chris Grayling unlike Theresa May, the home secretary,is on record to a member of the public that he thinks having an inquiry into sexual abuse is  “a waste of money” one wonders whether there are current Medomsley’s in the present system.