April 2019

Almost 1,800 boys abused at detention centre, police reveal as ‘brutal’ prison officers jailed

Three prison officers have been jailed for inflicting years of “brutality and violence” on children held at a youth detention centre.

Christopher Onslow, 73, John McGee, 75, and Kevin Blakely, 67, beat, punched and stamped on young boys while working at Medomsley Detention Centre throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

The men carried out attacks on the young boys on a regular basis leaving them severely bruised and bleeding, and in some cases, with broken bones and unconscious.

Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Green, who led the investigation, said the trio “abused their position to cause immeasurable suffering and lifelong damage to their victims”.

He added: “We hope that their convictions and the sentences passed provide victims and survivors of abuse at Medomsley with some comfort and a feeling that justice has been served.”

A judge sentencing the trio at Teesside Crown Court said that at the time they committed their crimes, “nobody wanted to hear” about the brutality.

“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 Howard Crowson 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.”

More than 70 victims gave evidence at the three men’s trials, detailing regular assaults that left them with broken bones, fractures, black eyes and scars.

They are just a small fraction of almost 1,800 men who have so far come forward to report alleged abuse at Medomsley, as part of the wider Operation Seabrook investigation. 

Det Ch Supt Green said officers could “never have envisaged the huge numbers of men coming forward to report abuse”.

He added: “We appreciate that for the victims and survivors of abuse at Medomsley Detention Centre, it has taken courage to come forward and tell police what happened to them.”

“It is not easy to relive such distressing incidents, but we hope that they have found some solace in reporting their stories to police, being listened to, and that the issues at Medomsley are being discussed in public.”  

Durham Constabulary started the investigation in 2013, and are urging other victims who were held at Medomsley from the 1960s until its closure in 1988 to come forward.

It is just one of several youth detention centres where former inmates have reported historical physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Survivors previously told The Independent of the beatings, humiliation and sexual assault they routinely suffered at what one man called “sadistic, brutal concentration camps”.

Some teenagers were driven to suicide and others said the trauma had sparked a worsening cycle of violence and addiction.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has revealed the appalling scale of more recent child sexual abuse in detention centres. 

A recent report said that more than 1,000 incidents had been reported between 2009 and 2017, and children “are still not safe”.

Judge Crowson said that in the 1970s and 1980s, authorities felt it easier to believe youth detention centres were places of appropriate discipline “where unruly boys were taught to behave properly”.

He told the court the false view had protected the defendants for 40 years, amid a culture of silence from colleagues.

Onslow was jailed for eight-and-a-half years for misconduct in a public office, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and one of wounding with intent.

He was the officer in charge of physical training at Medomsley between 1975 and 1985, and often attacked victims in the gym.

Victims told the court how they would self-harm to try to avoid the area, with some persuading other inmates to break their legs in an attempt to be hospitalised. 

Onslow caused a victim to fall from a cargo net and break his back by throwing rocks, and struck another inmate around the head with muddy football boots, leaving lasting scars.

“I did deserve punishment, but not to the level of punching and kicking I sustained,” the victim said. “I thought I was going to die that day.”

Onslow’s defence lawyer, Toby Hedworth QC, claimed leadership at Medomsley was lacking, causing lower-ranked officers to believe what they were doing was right, and the “foot-soldiers” were now being punished as their superiors remained free.

He added: “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.”

McGee, a prison officer from 1975 to 1982, was jailed for two years and 10 months for misconduct in a public office and assault.

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

Blakely, who worked at Medomsley from 1974 to 1983, was jailed for two years and nine months for two counts of misconduct in a public office.

His offences included punching a boy who tried to report sexual abuse, and kicking another inmate as he lay in bed.

Two other former officers, Brian Johnson Greenwell, 71, and Alan Bramley, 70, were also both found guilty of misconduct in a public office and will be sentenced at a later date.

Onslow, McGee and Greenwell are appealing against their convictions for misconduct in a public office. 

Anyone who believes they are a victim and has not already contacted police is asked to call Durham Constabulary on 101, or email operation.seabrook@durham.pnn.police.uk.

March 2019

Former officers convicted of Medomsley attacks

Top(L-R):Alan Bramley, Kevin Blakeley and John McGee. Bottom(L-R): Christopher Onslow and Brian Greenwell

Five officers have been convicted of assaults on young inmates at a youth detention centre in County Durham.

Durham Constabulary’s investigation in to the abuse has been of the largest of it’s kind in the UK after 1,676 men came forward.

Teesside Crown Court heard violence at the Medomsley detention centre, during the 60s, 70s and 80s, was used for “enjoyment”.

The five men carried out attacks on the young boys on a regular basis leaving them severely bruised and bleeding, and in some cases, with broken bones and unconscious.

Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Green has been leading the investigation.

He said, “It’s never ending for those individuals, and one of the important things is that this has allowed them to have a voice for them to be heard.

“Some of these people, many of these people, are very very badly damaged by what occurred and that’s devastated their lives.”

The detention centre near Consett was set up to keep young offenders out of prison and away from the influence of older criminals.

But the court heard how these teenagers were subject to routine violence and mistreatment by these men.

One young prisoner was raped in the kitchen by Neville Husband, who, back in 2003, was jailed for sexually abusing 9 boys at Medomsley. He has since died.

The inmate tried to tell the officer in charge of physical training what had happened to him, but his response was to beat him up, and tell him to never mention it again.

That officer was Christopher Onslow, who’s now 72.

Another former inmate told the jury the boys would often self harm, and even try and break their legs, so they could avoid facing Onslow in the gym.

He threw rocks at another prisoner causing him to fall, which crushed three of his vertebrae. He was in a body cast for several weeks.

Another of Onslow’s victims suffered a broken ankle after he’d slammed a medicine ball on to it.

A different guard, 74 year old John McGee, forced one of his victims to remove his underwear and “bunny hop” to the showers, dragging, kicking and punching him as he went.

He was described by one former detainee as the “most feared officer”.

McGee and Oslow were both found not guilty of sexual offences against young offenders, along with 71 year old Brian Greenwell.

All of them plus former officers 67 year old Kevin Blakeley and 70 year old Alan Bramley have been convicted of misconduct in a public office by assaulting and abusing prisoners.

Detective Chief Superintendent Green said it’s likely others kept quiet about it:

“There must have been people at Medomsley who knew that physical and potentially sexual abuse was occurring. Shame on them, that’s what I say.

They should have intervened. They were there to intervene, and I struggle with this number of individuals and the number of people who have had allegations made that people didn’t know something was very wrong at Medomsley.”

Two more men , 63 year old David McClure and 62 year old Neil Sowerby, were cleared of all offences including misconduct in a public office, buggery and indecent assault.