Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, writes for BIHR’s Act for UK Rights blog about the use of pain-inducing restraint on children. Prohibited inside secure children’s homes, this form of restraint continues to be authorised outside of homes, for example on visits to court or hospital, putting children’s human rights at risk. All views are Carolyne’s own.

Last year, BBC Panorama exposed the abuse of child prisoners at Medway secure training centre. Painful restraint featured in several distressing scenes, giving the public an unparalleled glimpse into the experiences of children made even more vulnerable and powerless, isolated from their families, and hidden out of sight.

The prison remains open, though under the control of the prison service rather than G4S (who were running the prison at the time the programme was filmed). It was declared still unsafe by inspectors in June. Pain-inducing restraint continues to be authorised in this and other child prisons, against the recommendations of many authoritative bodies, including the UN Committee Against Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the UK’s four Children’s Commissioners. In fact, the situation has worsened because escort custody officers taking children to and from secure children’s homes have been handed the power to inflict pain. Children as young as 10 can be detained in secure children’s homes.

My charity, Article 39, is running a crowdfunder to legally challenge this.

The deliberate infliction of pain during restraint is banned within children’s homes, with the Department for Education declaring in statutory guidance it 'cannot be proportionate'. So why is it permitted in transit?

Two children died in 2004 following the use of lethal prison restraint techniques. Fifteen year-old Gareth Myatt was forcibly held down in a seated position by three G4S officers. They ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe and he lost consciousness within six or seven minutes. Gareth weighed just 6½ stone and stood less than five feet tall. At the inquest into his death, it transpired G4S restraint trainers had nicknames such as Clubber, Mauler and Breaker.  

Adam Rickwood, 14, took his own life in a child prison run by Serco hours after being unlawfully restrained. He was inflicted with the ‘nose distraction’, which has been described as like a karate chop. Adam left behind two notes, one for his family asking to be buried with his grandad; the other for his solicitor explaining that he had asked Serco officers what gave them the right to hit a child in the nose.

The restraint techniques used on Gareth and Adam were eventually withdrawn but one-third of methods contained in a behaviour management system developed in response to their deaths involve the use of pain. We discovered through a Freedom of Information request that escort custody officers are empowered to fasten a waist restraint belt on children. The Home Office manual of restraint techniques for enforced removals (also developed by the prison service) says the belt has:

a fabric design with easy to use lockable clips. The wrist cuffs consist of Velcro straps with a clip on top that can be locked off for extra security. To assist the detainee, the wrist cuffs are extendable thus giving the individual more arm movement for eating and drinking. Likewise the cuffs can be drawn into the belt limiting arm movement should it be appropriate. To restrict hand movement there is a fabric mesh at the front which clips up and over the hands and can be secured.

Within secure children’s homes, regulations limit the use of restraint to prevent injury, serious property damage and to stop a child running away. Escort officers, however, are permitted to restrain for 'good order and discipline', despite similar rules being quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2008, as a breach of the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, as protected by Article 3 of the Human Rights Act.

For more information about Article 39’s work to challenge painful restraint techniques, including how you can support the campaign, please visit their CrowdJustice page.