G4S teaches UK Border Agency how to care for children

It’s no joke — the world’s biggest security company is training immigration staff in “Keeping Children Safe”.

The world’s biggest security company, G4S, has been paid to train thousands of UK Border Agency staff in “Keeping Children Safe” and continues to do so despite its own record of harming people in its care, and its apparent lack of any formal accreditation in such training.

The Home Office has confirmed to OurKingdom that G4S has trained some 7,800 UK Border Agency staff in safeguarding children — “particularly within the Border Force who may come into contact with children entering and leaving the country”.

The children may have been trafficked, sexually exploited, be facing removal from Britain or they may be incarcerated in two government detention facilities run for profit by G4S — Tinsley House at Gatwick Airport and Cedars in the Sussex village of Pease Pottage.

The Border Agency’s cosy arrangement with its favourite commercial contractor appears to have escaped the notice of its so-called Independent Family Returns Panel, which is supposed to advise on children’s welfare under the Coalition Government’s new child detention arrangements, and the Home Affairs Committee, whose duties include scrutinising Border Agency performance. Children’s charity Barnardo’s, which works alongside G4S at the Cedars family lock-up, and has vowed to “speak out” and even withdraw their services “if policy and practice fall short of safeguarding the welfare, dignity and respect of families”, has failed to blow the whistle on this unorthodox arrangement.

The Agency’s invitation to G4S in 2007 (there was no competition) to provide such critical training, which continues to this day, is extraordinary in view of the company’s lack of accreditation, its role running detention facilities, and, most strikingly, in view of its own culpability in repeatedly harming children and adults in its care.

Fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt died in April 2004 under “restraint” by three staff after he had refused to clean the sandwich toaster at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby, run by Rebound Children Services, a division of G4S.*

Gareth, from Stoke on Trent, who was of mixed race and only 4’ 10”, died after choking on his own vomit as he was held down. Despite Gareth saying that he could not breathe, staff continued to restrain him until he went limp. He had an older sister who was 16 and a younger brother who was 9 at the time of his death.

Horrible and shocking, Gareth’s death at the privately-run child prison was no surprise. After the Inquest in July 2007, the Coroner, Judge Pollard, wrote personally to then justice secretary Jack Straw to ensure that no other child should be harmed by improper restraint methods, and to highlight the remarkable failure of Rebound’s management to act on reports of abuses:

“Inadequacy in the monitoring of the use of Physical Control in Care at Rainsbrook by Rebound management caused or contributed to Gareth’s death,” wrote the Coroner. “We also wish to record that there was a problem with the lack of response by Rebound to the information from Rainsbrook.”

Gareth’s mother, Pamela Wilton, speaking after the Inquest, told the BBC: “It has been hard enough to accept what happened to Gaz. But hearing everything that’s come out . . . how long the injuries were going on, years of injury and vomiting and kids complaining. I hope to see change to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, that kids are hurt.”

The next person known to have died under restraint by G4S was Jimmy Mubenga, a previously healthy 46-year-old Angolan man held down by two G4S guards on BA Flight 77 at Heathrow Airport in October 2010.

In a chilling echo of Gareth Myatt’s last words, Jimmy Mubenga was heard to say: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” for about 10 minutes before passing out, according to The Guardian. Two witnesses recalled him saying: “They’re going to kill me.”

(The charity, Inquest, has published detailed briefings on the deaths of Gareth Myatt and Jimmy Mubenga).

Staff cruelty to child inmates at G4S Rainsbrook carried on after Gareth’s death. In April 2010 a G4S manager was sentenced to a 40 week suspended jail term for assaulting a 13-year-old boy in his care in September 2008. Northampton Crown Court heard that 27-year-old team leader Neil Hanna dragged the boy along tarmac and then up a flight of stairs causing severe abrasions to his buttocks.

Meanwhile, in the Border Agency’s care, immigration detainees’ complaints of excessive force by G4S and other commercial contractors were documented in Outsourcing Abuse, a dossier published by the charity Medical Justice in July 2008. At G4S-run Tinsley House in October 2009, a 10 year old girl tried to strangle herself.

As recently as September 2011 HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported that G4S staff escorting detainees to Nigeria used “extremely offensive and wholly inappropriate language . . . to describe detainees, including demeaning racist terms.”

G4S is not a dedicated provider of statutory, regulated, inspected or accredited safeguarding children’s services, yet, according to the company’s own so-called “Case Study” of its training for Border Agency staff: “In 2007 the Immigration Minister identified nine principles which the UKBA Children’s Champion Office had to follow in order to keep children safe from harm. As a proven supplier to UKBA we were approached to partner the Agency in devising a solution to this challenge.”

I asked both G4S and the Home Office to provide details of the professional background and qualifications of the corporate trainers. A G4S company spokesperson replied by email: “We have a team of trainers, who are all either former qualified teachers, Police Officers or Police staff trainers. They all have backgrounds in working with children or designing/delivering training that is relevant to safeguarding children.”

The Home Office replied: “All the training team have significant experience within the Justice sector.”

Asked how and by whom the training is accredited, the Home Office replied: “The course was jointly designed by G4S and UKBA in response to UKBA specifications.”

As for what evaluation took place, the Home Office offered only: “After each course an evaluation is collected from delegates to summarise their initial thoughts on the programme. Regular contract meetings are conducted.”

The G4S “Case Study” boasts that of the first 2000 workers who were trained, “over 99% . . . reported the course had met its aims and objectives and 100% of delegates stated they had learned new information.” The Border Agency’s Learning and Development Manager, Lauren Ashton, “couldn’t have been more complimentary about the service we provided, stating that we are like ‘an extension of their business.’” And: “The Children’s Champion Office has been delighted with the success of the events.”

Leaving aside the fact that the Border Agency is not supposed to be running a ‘business’, self-completed questionnaires, florid compliments and the Children’s Champion’s delight are poor substitutes for rigorous independent evaluation.

The Border Agency’s Office of “Children’s Champion”, which is supposed to promote the safeguarding and welfare of children within the Agency, was itself heavily criticised by the Serious Case Review Committee of the Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board in June 2010, for failing to intervene in the case of a child who was sexually abused at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, denied appropriate medical examination and therapeutic care, rushed out of Yarl’s Wood and removed from the country.

Will the Border Agency’s so-called Independent Family Returns Panel, or the Home Affairs Committee, or children’s charity Barnardo’s now take any action to ensure that the Border Agency commissions child safeguarding training from accredited and credible providers?

As the G4S Case Study says: “Children have the right to be safe and it is the responsibility of those working with them to ensure their right is maintained. It is not acceptable for accidents and oversights to happen, however, several well publicised cases have highlighted that they do.”


** Children and the UK Border Agency

Thanks to pressure from the first Children’s Commissioner for England and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, among others repeatedly highlighting multiple deficiencies in the Border Agency’s treatment of vulnerable children over years, mandatory training in child safeguarding for all Border Agency staff in contact with children has been required since 2007.

That was enshrined in the statutory guidance to section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which gave the Border Agency a duty to promote and safeguard the welfare of children.

The equivalent statutory duty on other public bodies to safeguard children was provided by Section 11 of The Children Act 2004 following the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, but the UK Border Agency and its predecessors resisted these duties until they were imposed on them under section 55.

Children subject to immigration control, including those held in immigration detention in the UK, were excluded from the full rights and protections of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child until November 2008 when, under great pressure, the UK withdrew most of its reservations to the Convention.

* Rebound, GSL and G4S

At the time of Gareth Myatt’s death in April 2004 Rebound was a subsidiary of GSL, part of Group 4 Falck, the huge Danish security company that merged with Securicor in July 2004 to create Group 4 Securicor, rebranded in 2006 as G4S.

In June 2004, just ahead of the merger, Group 4 Falck sold GSL to its management in a £207 million deal backed by private equity firms. Then, in December 2007, G4S bought it back again (for £355 million).

G4S chief executive Nick Buckles explained to the Financial Times in December 2007 that GSL had been sold “to ease the progress of the merger as there would otherwise have been competition issues over prisoner transportation.” Having been bought back, GSL would now “slot neatly into the next stage of G4S’s strategy to focus on long-term government contracts.” 

CLARE SAMBROOK , 10 July 2012