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Abuse and Mistreatment of Children by G4S staff at Medway Secure Training Centre.

In 2016, the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed allegations of abuse and mistreatment at the Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent. The Centre was managed by the private security company G4S. Allegations against the Centre included unnecessary use of force, foul language, conducting strip searches on the children and attempts by staff to cover up their abuse. 

Keywords: poor training, children


The Medway Secure Training Centre (STC) was set up in 1998 to house children between the ages of 12 to 18 who are serving a custodial sentence or have been remanded into custody by the courts. It is capable of housing 67 children at a time. Right from its establishment in 1998, G4S has been responsible for managing the Centre. From as early as 1999, inspectors reported that the staff lacked the necessary skills, qualifications or experience to work with vulnerable and volatile children. This resulted in them overly relying on the use of restraint.

According to the Guardian, two whistleblowers had claimed in 2003 that inmates at Medway STC were being abused by staff and by the head of G4S children’s services there. Professor John Pitts, an expert in youth crimes and youth justice, had contacted the relevant authorities on behalf of the whistleblowers but received only one brief reply from one of the agencies he had contacted. An article by the Guardian in 2016 revealed how in 2010 a fifteen-year-old girl suffered a miscarriage at Medway without receiving any hospital care. It was only after a week and half that she was taken to a doctor. Thus, there were multiple allegations against the Medway STC prior to 2016.

G4S was also responsible for running some of the other Secure Training Centers (STC) in England. In 2004, the company came under the spotlight after a 15-year-old boy died in a horrific incident at the Rainsbrook STC. Even after multiple other incidents and the loss of contracts for other STCs (like Rainsbrook), in 2015, G4S again won the competition to manage Medway STC for another five years. A 2014 inspection by Ofsted (office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) had found that the Medway STC was “good with some outstanding features” and reported the Centre to be calm and orderly.

The Incidents

The incidents covered by the 2016 Panorama documentary were secretly filmed in 2015 and included instances like pressure being heavily applied on children’s neck, slapping a teenager several times in the head, using restraint techniques that had been authorized only for grave situations (methods which bodies like the UN Committee Against Torture and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons had recommended to be prohibited), and using foul language and threatening the children by the staff. The documentary also revealed how the staff tried to cover up their behavior by ensuring they were in areas not covered by the CCTV cameras and how G4S misrepresented the incidents to the government to avoid fines.

The use of force against children was prevalent, especially as a response to cases of self-harming by the children. In one particular incident, the staff prevented access to a hospital to one of the children for treatment after self-harm, citing the child’s “challenging behavior” as the reason for the refusal. An Ofsted report stated that about two incidents involving force use occur daily. There were also allegations of strip-searches being conducted on children, at times in the presence of security personnel who were not the same sex as the child in question.

A report, which was released after the allegations, stated that staff were often recruited to the STC even without prior experience with children. Staff behavior revealed that many were unclear and inconsistent in how they should manage the complex behavior of children and teenagers. Ofsted investigations found that staff were often “poorly trained and largely unqualified”.

There was high staff turnover, with 2015 marking a staff turnover of 60%. This high turnover of staff meant that the majority of them were inexperienced, nor did they receive the necessary support or supervision to execute their tasks to a good standard. Many were also promoted internally relatively quickly. Due to staff shortages, at times, children were forced to remain locked in their rooms, missing out on activities they had earned through good behavior. In one of Osfted’s investigations favoritism among staff was pointed out by some of the children. The tendency of staff to “give in to young people’s demands inappropriately because of a prevailing culture which is not strong enough to impose and maintain appropriate boundaries and rules” was pointed out.


G4S attempted to stop the broadcast of the footage by BBC by arguing that the filming was unauthorized and illegal. The managing director of G4S children’s services referred the allegations to the Medway Child Protection team and police on 30 December. Following the Panorama program, sixteen people were arrested and seven of the staff members were suspended. The Youth Justice Board stated that it had increased its monitoring of the Centre.

By 2019 of the nine people that the Crown Protection Service (CPS) had decided to prosecute, seven were found not guilty and no verdict had been reached for the other two cases.

The International Code of Conduct

The International Code of Conduct requires that Personnel of Member and Affiliate companies take all reasonable steps to avoid the use of force, and if force is used, it should be proportionate to the threat and appropriate to the situation. (Rules on the Use of Force : paragraph 29, Use of Force : paragraph 30-32).

Resources on Use of Force

Additionally, security personnel are only allowed to apprehend persons to defend themselves or others against an imminent threat of violence following an attack or crime against Company Personnel, clients, or property under their protection. Apprehension and detention must be consistent with international and national law, and all apprehended and detained persons must be treated humanely and consistent with their status and protections under applicable human rights law and international humanitarian law. (Detention: paragraph 33) 

Resources on Apprehending Persons 

Resources on Detention 

The Code instructs Member and Affiliate companies to provide a safe and healthy working environment and to adopt policies that support this. This includes policies that address psychological health, deter workplace violence, alcohol and drug abuse and other improper behavior. Companies must also ensure that reasonable precautions are taken to protect relevant staff in high-risk or life-threatening operations (paragraph 64).  

The Code requires stringent selection and vetting of personnel, assessment of performance and duties (paragraphs 45 to 49), and training of personnel of the Code and relevant international law, including human rights and international criminal law (paragraph 55). Meeting the requirements of the Code of Conduct can help private security companies and their clients ensure that private security personnel are qualified, trained, supported, informed, and responsible.  

Resources on working conditions 


In 2016, following the BBC’s expose of the abuses at Medway STC, G4S lost the right to manage the Centre. It was then taken over by the government. Even when the STC was placed under government management, Ofsted investigations in 2019 found the quality of practice to have declined and that pain inflicting techniques continued to be used on children.  In March 2020, the Medway STC was shut down. 

Despite multiple allegations of abuses by G4S personnel in different Secure Training Centers (like in Medway and Rainsbrook), other STCs like the Oakhill STC continue to be run by it. This is despite the allegations raised by a whistleblower in 2021 against serious abuses at the Centre. An inspection of the Centre in 2023 by Ofsted concluded that it requires further improvement to be good.  


Discuss how this case reveals the importance of training and vetting of personnel when it comes to staff having to work in volatile environments or with ‘special’ groups like children. 

Related incidents




This case was prepared by Shilpa Suresh, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 

Descargo de responsabilidad

De acuerdo con la cláusula de exención de responsabilidad de la página de inicio, ni la Asociación del Código de Conducta Internacional ni ninguno de los autores pueden identificarse con las opiniones expresadas en el texto o las fuentes incluidas en «Defender la Seguridad Responsable: El Mapa de Casos del Código Internacional de Conducta».