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Staff at Medway Secure Training Centre cleared of abusing inmates after BBC Panorama documentary

Four members of staff at a youth jail who were secretly filmed by a TV investigator have been cleared of abusing and mistreating inmates.

At the end of a 43-day trial earlier this month a jury cleared Gareth Evans, 27, of two charges of misconduct in public office and Christopher Lomax, 36, of one charge.

Anthony Dance, 27, was cleared of one charge. The jury could not reach a verdict on a second charge for him or a single charge for 37-year-old Matthew Cunningham.

Medway Secure Training Centre (1293095)
Medway Secure Training Centre (1293095)

The prosecution announced today that a retrial would not be sought for either Dance or Cunningham and not guilty verdicts were entered.

Mr Dance’s solicitor Nigel Richardson, of Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “Anthony is incredibly relieved that this matter has come to end. He readily admitted that his actions in the film were foolish and boastful rather than truthful.

“He was clearly performing a very difficult job and was under immense pressure. The TV footage, while powerful, was not representative of the treatment of the young offenders at the centre, and there is no evidence that Anthony or his colleagues intentionally caused physical harm to those in their care.”

Maidstone Crown Court heard freelance journalist Robert Padmore covertly used a camera for the BBC’s Panorama current affairs programme to film at Medway Secure Training Centre (MSTC) in Rochester.

Footage from the Panorama documentary (1293099)
Footage from the Panorama documentary (1293099)

Prosecutor Jennifer Knight had told jurors: “It is the Crown’s case that each of the defendants while acting as public officers, wilfully misconducted themselves.

“There is no doubt that many of the trainees were extremely difficult to manage. They were children and teenagers whose behaviour had got them into trouble, hence their presence at MSTC.

“The Crown do not suggest the job performed by these defendants was an easy one. The Crown does not suggest there should have been some sort of council of perfection.

“They were all fully trained and understood how to manage the challenging behaviour of trainees, and how and when to use approved restraint techniques appropriately.”

Medway Secure Training Centre (1293097)
Medway Secure Training Centre (1293097)

It was alleged that Mr Dance and Mr Cunningham “behaved aggressively and threateningly towards trainees, both physically and verbally”.

“They each demonstrated a motivation to goad trainees into behaviour which would result in restraints being used and did not carry out those restraints in accordance with the MMPR (Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint) programme,” said Miss Knight.

“Both defendants assaulted trainees causally and frequently.”

Mr Dance, of Brookland Terrace, Lower Horsebridge, Hailsham, East Sussex, Mr Lomax, of Timbertops, Chatham, Mr Evans, of Tintagel Gardens, Rochester, and Mr Cunningham, of Megby Close, Gillingham, all denied any wrongdoing.

A still from the undercover documentary (1293103)
A still from the undercover documentary (1293103)

The centre houses about 70 youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 who have been either remanded in custody awaiting sentence or convicted of offences.

Security firm G4S held the contract from the centre’s opening in 1998 until July 2016 when it was brought within the public centre to be run by HM Prison and Probation Service.

Miss Knight said the system emphasised that the use of force on a young person must always be viewed as the last available option.

Panorama launched an investigation at the centre in March 2015, using the undercover reporter.

He attended a seven-week training course and worked 39 shifts as a secure care officer from October 3 to December 6 that year.

During that time he came into contact with Mr Lomax, a duty operations manager, and team leaders Mr Dance, Mr Evans and Mr Cunningham.

Mr Padmore wore a covert camera at about chest height to film at the centre. There were also a number of CCTV cameras in corridors and communal areas.

Medway Secure Training Centre (1293101)
Medway Secure Training Centre (1293101)

Prosecutor Edward Franklin told Judge Jeremy Carey: "The Crown has considered very carefully indeed whether to seek a retrial for the two defendants on whom the jury were hung, and on reflection decline to do so."

Judge Carey said he did not require any further explanation for the decision by the CPS.

It was clear, he said, that having been presented with evidence by the BBC, the police were required to investigate it.

The judge said the body of evidence, which could have resulted in guilty verdicts had it come up to proof, "amply justified the decision to prosecute".

"I wish to state in open court for the avoidance of doubt, and for those who haven't been present during the many weeks of trial and aware of the Panorama programme of 30 minutes or so, it did not feature evidentially in this case at all, save in a very limited respect in cross-examination from time to time,” he said.

“It is important to emphasise, therefore, particularly for those who have seen the programme and have a recollection of its content, the trial evidence bore no relation necessarily to the programme that was aired.

"I put it as tentatively as that because this court has never seen the programme and simply doesn’t know what the content was.

Judge Jeremy Carey (1297266)
Judge Jeremy Carey (1297266)

"This trial was a quite separate consideration to the vast quantity of evidence which was never subject to the footage on the Panorama programme.

“The scrutinising of evidence and firsthand evidence, including given by young offenders to the jury, formed a particular part of the prosecution case in the short clips that may have been shown as part of the programme.”

Judge Carey said the case was investigated to the highest standard and made commendations in respect of four police officers.

“It was, to put it mildly, a very difficult and sensitive case from a number of points of view,” he added.

Speaking afterwards a BBC spokeswoman said: “Our journalism exposed the abuse of children, some as young as 14, at a youth prison; abuse that otherwise might not have been uncovered.

"There is a serious case review underway, prompted by our investigation, looking at the lessons to be learned.

"That would not have happened without BBC Panorama’s investigation and our undercover reporter’s work and we remain committed to investigative journalism”.

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