Medomsley: potential civil claims following historical institutional abuse
Another report in the press has highlighted horrific abuse at a former County Durham Detention Centre. According to press reports, men detained at Medomsley Detention Centre were subject to sexual and physical abuse by prison officers employed there.
One such prison officer, Neville Husband, was convicted of numerous offences and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2003 and another employee, Leslie Johnson who was a store man, was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison in 2005. Newcastle Crown Court heard that Mr Husband “used his position of authority” when employed at Medomsley to inflict abuse on detainees from 1974 to 1984. He was found guilty of 10 counts of indecent assault and one of serious sexual assault after at least 24 victims came forward. Messrs Husband and Johnson are both now deceased.
Durham Police reopened the investigation in August 2013 and so far 143 alleged victims have come forward. One such victim has been reported as saying “Some of the boys would lie at the bottom of the stairs and ask another boy to jump off the stairs onto their legs so they could break a leg and be removed from Medomsley Detention Centre in order not to be subjected to any more beatings”.
This seems to be an extraordinary way of detainees trying to protect themselves from sexual abuse and beatings. This would seem a desperate measure to protect each other from further harm and abuse.
The sickening part of this is that most of the detainees were sent to Medomsley for minor offences such as petty theft and many were first time offenders.
Tim Newell was the governor at Medomsley from 1978 to 1981 but he prepared a report stating that Mr Husband provided “an outstanding contribution to the running of the establishment”. This of course cannot be true as there are currently 70 police officers in Durham involved in this enquiry.
Even the Director General of the prison service at the time of the offences coming to light, Martin Narey, has said “Without reservation I apologise to people at Medomsley who were harmed by Neville Husband. We should have stopped him much earlier.”
In the same vein as Operation Yewtree it would appear that people knew that the abuse was taking place but did very little to stop it or prevent it happening to others. Institutional systemic abuse in such institutions as the BBC and Medomsley must have been common knowledge at the time. However, it has taken many years to bring the perpetrators of the abuse to justice. Jimmy Savile died before he could be brought to justice and the victims of his abuse feel cheated that he was not made to answer to them for the abuse he carried out in much the same way as the victims of Husband and Johnson who are now coming forward many years after the abuse was carried out.
Abuse, be it physical, sexual or emotional, can carry lifelong psychological difficulties for victims and it takes courage and motivation for victims to come forward and tell others what has happened. I see many clients who are paralysed emotionally because of such abuse and they have extreme difficulty moving on with life as a consequence.
I fear that the institutional abuse such as that carried out at Medomsley was down to a small number of individuals who felt the need to exploit the detainees. The detainees were vulnerable and incapable of protecting themselves at the time of the abuse, and after release from Medomsley they had to grapple with the harmful effects of the abuse and the stigma attached to being incarcerated at Medomsley and this in itself, for many, would have prevented them from disclosing such abuse to the police or other such authorities.