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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009-2017 Investigation Report

Part A: Introduction

1. The Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions investigation is an inquiry into the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation while in custodial institutions. Children in detention are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. However, very little is known about their experiences or the extent to which institutions in England and Wales have discharged their duty of care to protect them. The Inquiry’s work on children in custody seeks to address this gap in public understanding.

2. This phase of the investigation has focussed on recent and current issues relating to the sexual abuse of children in custody. Specifically, we have considered the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, recent sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, and the adequacy of current institutional and systemic protections of children in those institutions from sexual abuse. For the purposes of this phase, ‘recent’ was considered to mean sexual abuse which allegedly occurred on or after 1 January 2009.

3. The process adopted by the Inquiry is set out in Annex 1 to this report. Core participant status was granted under Rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 to one group of complainants, one individual complainant and four institutions. We held two preliminary hearings in February and June 2018 to open this phase of the investigation and to deal with procedural matters.

4. In March 2018, the Inquiry’s research team published a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) on child sexual abuse in custodial institutions. This summarised the existing evidence and provided an invaluable context for the public hearings that followed over nine days in July 2018.

5. The Inquiry’s legal team collated and reviewed a large amount of witness and documentary evidence, which was disclosed to the core participants when relevant.

6. The overarching issues considered in this phase of the investigation, derived from the definition of the scope[1] of the investigation set by the Inquiry and the Terms of Reference[2] for the Inquiry set by the Home Secretary, were:

a. How much sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions in England and Wales has been alleged to have taken place in recent years (ie since 1 January 2009)? What has been the nature of the sexual abuse alleged?

b. Has there been recently, and is there now, a culture within custodial institutions which inhibits the proper prevention, exposure and investigation of child sexual abuse?

c. What are the current institutional or systemic protections for children in custodial institutions in respect of sexual abuse? Are they effective?

d. In respect of a sample of allegations of sexual abuse in custodial institutions, what have the institutional responses been? How effective, overall, have these responses been?

7. In order to address the overall culture and systems issues, we heard evidence about a range of factual issues. These included broad questions, such as whether children in custody can ever be fully protected from sexual abuse, whether children are more at risk of sexual abuse in institutions run by private contractors and whether the sexual abuse of children in custody is part of a wider pattern of declining safety in the custodial estate. They also included more specific questions, such as whether the complaints process available to children in custodial institutions is effective, whether they have adequate access to family and friends and whether there should be greater use of CCTV or body-worn cameras to better protect children in custody from sexual abuse.

8. At the public hearings we heard from several complainant core participants, who described being sexually abused while children in custody some years ago. These powerful accounts served as a reminder of how vulnerable children in custody can be and of the need for vigilance to ensure that they are protected from the risk of sexual and other abuse as far as possible. They also reminded us that the sexual abuse of children in custody can be hidden from view. The Inquiry’s own prevalence analysis confirms this.

9. It was not possible for us to hear directly from any complainant who described sexual abuse in the post-2009 period on which this phase of the investigation was focussed. The Inquiry legal team made significant efforts to contact complainants by, for example, publicising the investigation on the website, inviting lawyers and organisations in contact with children in custody to assist, and following up through institutions with some individuals whose experiences were set out in the institutional disclosure, but this was without success. This could be for a number of reasons, such as the transient nature of the youth custodial estate and the inherent vulnerabilities of those who have been abused as children in custody. This makes them particularly hard to reach. However, we ensured the voices of complainants of recent sexual abuse in custody were heard in the hearings as much as possible.

10. We heard from professionals with extensive experience of children in custody:

  • Dr Laura Janes (Legal Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform)
  • Carolyne Willow (a children’s rights campaigner and founder of Article 39)
  • Pam Hibbert OBE (former Chair of the National Association of Youth Justice)
  • Professor Nick Hardwick (former Chief Inspector of Prisons)
  • Angus Mulready-Jones (a current inspector of prisons)
  • Mark Johnson (founder of User Voice)
  • Katherine Willison (Director of Children’s Social Care, Practice and Workforce within the Department for Education, DfE)
  • Matthew Brazier (Ofsted specialist adviser for looked after children who also has some responsibility for the secure estate)
  • Chief Constable Simon Bailey (the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on child protection)
  • Albert Heaney (Director of Social Services and Integration, Welsh Government)
  • Sara Robinson and Peter Savage (Youth Custody Service – respectively, its Interim Executive Director and Head of Operational Contract Management).

11. Many witnesses addressed the issue of the culture in custodial institutions for children. We were keen to understand whether these cultural elements inhibit the proper prevention, exposure and investigation of child sexual abuse. Cultural factors are considered in Part D of this report.

12. Where we looked at systems issues, the REA provided us with a thorough overview. The witnesses developed this evidence and all, to varying degrees, addressed the question of what reforms are needed to the current systems.

13. We heard evidence from Alan Wood, who was instructed by the Inquiry to act as an independent expert witness. Mr Wood has been a qualified social worker since 1995 and has focussed on child protection and safeguarding practice in both the private and public sectors. His work has included carrying out case file reviews, investigating complaints and performing his own ‘front line’ social work. The Inquiry asked him to provide his opinion on a number of issues and to identify key themes that might have a bearing on the commission, detection and reporting of child sexual abuse in custodial settings.[3]

14. We conducted a review of a series of recent allegations of sexual abuse made by children at six custodial institutions: HM Young Offender Institutions at Feltham and Werrington; Medway and Rainsbrook Secure Training Centres; Vinney Green Secure Unit; and Aycliffe Secure Centre. We understand this is the first time specific institutional responses to a series of allegations of sexual abuse of children in custody have been subjected to such an analysis. Although we have not made findings about the adequacy of the response in respect of a particular case, the broad themes that emerged from the analysis have given us a clear sense of how these allegations are currently investigated.

15. Further witness statements were read or summarised to us. We also considered a number of further documents obtained by the Inquiry and disclosed to the core participants.

16. Howe and Co made written submissions setting out a series of proposals for reform,[4] on which the witnesses were invited to comment.

17. After the hearings, the Inquiry’s research team published its report from primary research in four institutions that hold children.[5] Interviews have been carried out with staff and detained children about safeguarding procedures and practices in relation to child sexual abuse. The findings of the primary research support and inform the conclusions we have reached in this investigation.

18. References in this report such as ‘HWL000001’ and ‘HWL000001_001’ are to documents or specific pages of documents that have been adduced in evidence and that can be found on the Inquiry website. A reference such as ‘Janes 11 July 2018 5–6’ is to the hearing transcript (which is also available on the website); that particular reference is to the evidence of Dr Janes on 11 July 2018 at pages 5–6 of that day’s transcript.

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