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Birmingham Prison: A Contract Ended and Settlement Paid After Revelations of Poor Conditions, Violence, Drugs, and Death in a Privately-Run Prison.

In 2018, an unannounced inspection of the Birmingham prison allegedly revealed extremely poor living conditions, extensive drug use among prisoners, violence among prisoners, and other indicators demonstrating that the operation of the prison was poor. The United Kingdom government took over the prison from the contractor, G4S, initially intending to run operations for six months, but later deciding to permanently take over the prison and end their contract with G4S. The United Kingdom Government and G4S agreed to a settlement of over £9 million to cover the costs of the contract takeover. In a private lawsuit between the mother of a deceased prisoner and G4S, a judge determined that both the state and the contractor shared responsibility for ensuring various duties and that human rights obligations towards the prisoners were not breached.

Keywords: drug use, poor working conditions


The Birmingham Prison has a history of drug use by prisoners within the facility. Particularly, the prison had a problem with “new psychoactive substances” (NPSs), including “mamba” and “spice.” In 2015, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (“PPO”) published a “learning lessons bulletin” regarding NPSs. The bulletin acknowledged several deaths of prisoners in which the prison was allegedly aware NPS use was a factor in the death, while discussing various patterns of behaviour and risks associated with NPS use.

Further, a report examined 19 deaths in the prison between April 2012 and September 2014 where the prisoner was strongly suspected to have used NPS drugs. By 2016, the number of similar prisoner deaths was at least 58.

Previously, the United Kingdom government has needed to interfere with prior contracts with G4S. In 2016, the government needed to step in at the end of G4S’s contract to run Medway Secure Training Centre after undercover reporters filmed staff allegedly mistreating children. Further, G4S lost its contract in 2015 to run Rainsbrook STC after prison inspectors graded the prison as “inadequate” and reporting that staff had allegedly behaved “extremely inappropriately” with young people.

The Incident


In 2018, the United Kingdom Ministry of Justice took immediate control of Birmingham Prison from G4S following an inspection revealing that prisoners allegedly used alcohol and drugs, engaged in violence, and lived in poor conditions surrounded by cockroaches, blood, and vomit. The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, alleged that there had been “dramatic deterioration” of the prison since the last inspection in 2017.


The report further revealed that staff were fearful, experiencing bullying and occasional attacks. Appalled at the conditions of the prison, Clarke stated “There had clearly been an abject failure of contract management and delivery…”

Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) then decided to run the prison for six months before deciding whether they could grant control back to G4S. However, after the six month period, the HM Prison and Probation decided to run the prison permanently.

Legal Aspects

Court cases

On October 11, 2019, Angela Carr, the mother of a prisoner, Andrew, who died at Birmingham Prison from use of cannabinoid (an NPS), brought a lawsuit against G4S in the High Court of Justice. Andrew Carr had died during the period that G4S was in charge of running the prison.  The lawsuit claimed that G4S breached two duties arising from the right to life under the Human Rights Act.

Ms. Carr alleged that an officer saw Andrew on the ground, laying on his side. Instead of calling a Code Blue, the officer allegedly continued to check on the rest of the prisoners. Allegedly, five minutes later, after noticing that Andrew was in the same position, the officer went to get assistance to open the door. Almost 20 minutes after the officer first noticed Andrew on the floor, a nurse observed that Andrew´s lips were purple, and found no signs of life.

Interviews of employees involved in the incident allegedly showed that they were aware (in addition to a general awareness among prison staff) of the method of transport of drugs that Andrew used to obtain the drugs, utilising the prison sewage pipe system. The coroner involved in Andrew´s death had expressed concerns that it was known for approximately five years that drugs were passed through the sewage system, but no action had been taken to address this before Andrew´s death.

In March 2020, G4S sought an order striking the claim and granting summary judgement to end the litigation. Under the United Kingdom’s legal framework, a court may strike out a claim if there are no reasonable grounds for bringing that claim. Further, a court may grant summary judgement if the claim has no reasonable prospects of success, and if there are no other compelling reasons why it should be disposed of at trial.

In determining the motion, the court concluded that there was a general and operational duty at issue. A general duty arises where a State has assumed responsibility for an individual by imprisoning him, in particular, the State assumes responsibility for his safety and welfare. The operational duty arises where there is an allegation that authorities have violated their positive general duty to protect the right to life; it must be established that the authorities knew or ought to have known at that time of the existence of a real and immediate risk to life of an identified individual, and that they failed to take measures within the scope of their powers which might have been expected to avoid that risk.

Given the circumstances, including the alleged awareness of the system of transport of drugs, the court determined that there were reasonable prospects of success and reasonable grounds for bringing the claims that G4S breached the above-described duties. The judge accepted Ms. Carr’s argument that the responsibilities for complying with the general duty would be shared between the state, and the contractor, G4S. Thus, G4S’S applications for strike out and summary judgement were dismissed.

The International Code of Conduct

The International Code of Conduct prescribes that its Member and Affiliate Companies will only guard, transport, or question detainees if: (a) the Company has been specifically contracted to do so by a state; and (b) its Personnel are trained in the applicable national and international law. Furthermore, security personnel have to treat all detained persons humanely and consistent with their status and protections under applicable human rights law or international humanitarian law, including in particular prohibitions on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (paragraph 33)

The Code requires stringent selection and vetting of personnel, assessment of performance and duties (paragraphs 45-49), 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.


HMPSS agreed to a settlement with G4S of £9.9 million to cover the cost of the “step-in” action. In order to improve standards at the prison, the prison introduced a search team to detect and deter the bringing of contraband into the prison, additional prison officers, and additional training for staff. This fine contributed to a decrease in revenues of G4S Care & Justice Services UK from £38m in 2017 to £21m in 2018.


What are some special recruiting, training, and vetting considerations in providing security for a prison environment?

How can private security personnel safety influence the quality of their services?

Related incidents




Case prepared by Madison Zeeman

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».