Gareth Myatt

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 12 July 2007.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 6:04, 12 July 2007

I ask four things of my right hon. Friend the Minister. First, there should be a public inquiry into the use of restraint in secure training centres. I say "public" because there was a review in 2004, at the time of Gareth's death. A 113-page report was produced, which I have with me. It was rewritten several times and was finally reduced to a one-page summary, which was posted on the Youth Justice Board website. That is completely inadequate. Internal reviews have not dealt with the issues, which only emerged into the public domain as a result of Gareth's death and inquest. They would not have emerged if it had not been for the work done by an organisation called Inquest.

I should like to point out the difficulty of raising issues about young people in the House. For example, a question tabled in the Commons about the case of Mohammed Hussain was replied to by letter. That letter contains information about the fact that oxygen had to be used to revive a young man in Rainsbrook only about 15 months after Gareth's death. I have a copy of it with me, but there is no time to read it into the record. Any review must be public. Young people who have been restrained and bereaved families must be able to participate fully, so that people can be assured that they have access to all the information, can see how the decisions are made and can ensure that changes are implemented.

There are other instances in which the public need to be sure of information. Information that was supposed to be put in the Library, following a request from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, was not placed there until yesterday, when I phoned up and agitated for it—and it was just a couple of tables. I have raised that point with my right hon. Friend.

Secondly, in order for the review to take place, the Government must withdraw statutory instrument No. 1709, the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007. Judge Richard Pollard's summary clearly sets out the basis on which physical control in care can be used. I cannot spend a lot of time going through that summary now, but I urge my right hon. Friend to look at it closely. The judge says, and everyone else who has been involved in the debate believes, that the statutory instrument makes a substantial change to the use of PCC in secure training centres—it lowers the threshold for its use. My right hon. Friend will say that we are talking about difficult young people, and so we are, but restraint was used 3,000 times in secure training centres last year. That makes it not a last resort, but routine.

Thirdly, given the failures of the inspection regime for secure training centres, I ask that the inspection function be given to Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons, which has the expertise and experience required for the task. It is clear that inspectorates that have great expertise in child care and education may not be best placed to assess the different regime in secure establishments. I also ask my right hon. Friend to place in the Library the inspection reports for the Oakill secure training centre, where it was necessary to remove and replace the director because of failings there.

Fourthly and most importantly, I ask for a major overhaul of the operations of the Youth Justice Board. It has manifestly failed to establish and operate routine administrative and reporting systems that would have mitigated the chances of a disaster such as Gareth's death. Despite clear warnings being sounded, it failed to ensure that meetings of its advisory panels were held to deal with the concerns. It failed to ensure that action was taken following warnings of risk to trainees. By all accounts, the warnings got lost in the system. It seems that some of the relationships between the YJB and its contractor, Rebound, were too close. The YJB failed to ensure proper training of staff and failed to monitor services in a high-risk environment. Those were all routine administrative functions that should have been well within the scope of such an organisation, and it is an indictment of the organisation that it failed to fulfil those tasks, with catastrophic results for Gareth.

It is easy to say that lessons must be learned—it is almost trite. When I first set out to look into the matter, I thought that it might have been individual wrongdoing by a member of staff that led to Gareth's death, but it was much worse than that. It was a complete systematic collective failure, which so far has not been put right. On a personal note, what particularly appals me is the complete lack of any sense of horror on the part of officialdom at what happened. As the jury found, the gruesome death of a boy was caused by profound failures in a system for which, ultimately, Ministers are responsible to the House.

In a letter that my right hon. Friend sent to my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore, he wrote:

"A secure facility cannot be run safely if aggressive and dangerous behaviour is allowed to go unchecked, or if good order is compromised to the extent that staff lose effective control. The behaviour of young people in custody is frequently challenging and sometimes dangerous."

In this case, the boy, who weighed 6½ stone and was 4 ft 10 ins tall, was locked in his room for refusing to clean a sandwich toaster. When people went in, that began the sequence of events that led to his death.

The letter goes on to say:

"Physical restraint must be available—in the last resort—so that everyone in the secure facility can be kept as safe as possible."

I wonder who was being kept safe on 19 April 2004, when Gareth died. It certainly was not Gareth Myatt.


Pauline Campbell
Posted on 17 Jul 2007 9:34 pm (Report this annotation)

Sally Keeble MP rightly raises urgent questions about the death in custody of the child Gareth Myatt, aged 15.

Ms Keeble comments: "It is easy to say lessons must be learned - it is almost trite." It isn't "almost trite". It is trite. Time and time again, following deaths in custody, we hear the expression that lessons must be (or will be) learned. The words have become meaningless.

One member of staff at the children's prison where Gareth died said: "I did not know someone who could speak could be dying of asphyxia". Such ignorance is alarming, and one can only hope the person concerned is no longer allowed to work with children who are in the 'care' of the State.

When my teenage daughter died in the so-called care of Styal young offender institution in 2003, she, too, was speaking when she was dying. In fact, as she was dying, she threatened to report staff to her solicitor and MP Stephen O'Brien. She died [prescription antidepressant drug poisoning] before she had chance to report them for their ignorance and incompetence.