Switalskis have been pursuing cases of abuse at the Medomsley detention centre since 2003 when Kevin Young complained about brutal treatment there. Numerous former trainees at Medomsley, a detention centre for boys aged 17-21, have claimed damages for sexual assaults notably by the head chef, Neville Husband.
There have been prosecutions more recently of other individuals for physical and sexual assaults arising from the Durham Police Operation Seabrook.
Throughout, alongside other solicitors we have pushed for compensation to recognise the boys who were subjected to equally violent physical brutality that was meted out at Medomsley. Finally the Ministry of Justice has recognised the plight of boys physically abused at Medomsley and have set up a scheme of compensation for anyone harmed by the harsh environment at Medomsley.
Switalskis Solicitors and a number of other Solicitor firms who together represent over 1000 Claimants, have been discussing with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), how they intended to respond to civil claims given the conviction of five former Officers.
After many months of discussions, a settlement scheme has been agreed with the MOJ and will be administered by Government lawyers.
Generally cases involving historical physical abuse have poor prospects of success due to the issue of limitation. There are strict time limits that apply to all civil claims. A claim for personal injury must be brought to the Court within 3 years of the date of the incident(s) giving rise to the claim. In cases where the incident(s) happened to a child, the 3 year period runs from the date of the Claimant’s 18th birthday.
The limitation period has already expired in all these cases. Courts do have a discretion to set aside the limitation rule and allow a claim to be presented out of time in limited circumstances.
Courts tend to view physical abuse as much less stigmatising than sexual abuse. It is much more difficult to persuade a court to extend the time period for this reason. Generally physical abuse is not considered to carry with it the same sense of shame or embarrassment.
There is a very clear risk that if the cases went to court they would fail on this point. I am not aware of any physical only assault case succeeding in beating the limitation argument after many years.
It was for this reason that we had discussions with MOJ to ensure that boys who were at Medomsley had the best opportunity to receive compensation.
The scheme will operate outside of the Civil Courts with a tariff of compensation awards dependent on the length of the period of detention. There is also a provision in the scheme to compensate for long lasting physical and/or injury.
To be eligible for the scheme:
- A claimant must have suffered physical abuse committed by a member of staff who was employed at Medomsley during the period he was detained there and who has been convicted in respect of such offences; and
- A claimant must have independent evidence of his period of detention (eg a criminal record showing detention at the time).
To date, the members of staff who have been convicted are:
- Christopher Onslow – “Machine / Mean Machine”
- John McGee – “Big John / Pigeon Man”
- Brian Greenwell – “Puppett”
- Kevin Blakely – “Broken Nose”
- Alan Bramley – “Bong Eye”
There is also another criminal trial which will take place in November 2020 involving two former Officers, Ian Nicholson and Alexander Flavell.
Under the scheme physical abuse is defined as “the direct application of unlawful force”. Therefore punishments such as being ordered by Officers to run the perimeter fence or being made to perform bunny hops will be excluded from the scheme.
The scheme will fall into three categories:
A claimant was detained at Medomsley for 3 months or less and will received a payment of compensation in the sum of £1,750;
A claimant detained at Medomsley for more than 3 months and will receive a payment of compensation in the sum of £2,500;
The Claimant has provided medical evidence to show that they sustained a lasting physical or injury as a direct result of their treatment at Medomsley will receive a payment of compensation between £3,000 and £5,000.
For an injury to be accepted as a “lasting injury” the injury must have persisted for a significant period of time beyond the period of detention and included injuries such as, fractures, dislocations, scarring, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is necessary to have medical evidence to support the physical or psychiatric injury which has been suffered.
The length of detention will take into account multiple period of detention and will be based on the total length of sentence that a person served.
The amounts of compensation have been agreed to reflect not only the assaults that a detainee suffered but also witnessing and living with the brutal regime at Medomsley. An award scheme based on the length of detention was considered to be the fairest way to administer the scheme. The length of periods of detention reflect the average sentences that people received.
The amounts have also been agreed at the above levels to reflect the risks of not being able to pursue a civil claim and of not receiving any compensation. As I have advised above there is a significant risk of any civil claim being unsuccessful and an award of compensation not being received. The scheme ensures that an eligible period will receive an award of compensation.
Switalskis and other solicitors firms involved are aware that this scheme will not be available for every person who suffered physical abuse at Medomsley. Discussion are continuing with the MOJ on how they intend to deal with claims where detainees suffered physical abuse you members of staff who have not been convicted or who are deceased.
We are also gathering evidence of how widespread the short sharp shock regime and indiscriminate assaults on detainees was during the1970s and 1980s as I believe the MOJ should set up a scheme to compensate all victims of this brutal regime.
At present my team at Switalskis are reviewing all cases and will write to all clients to confirm whether they are eligible for the scheme and the level of an award they will receive.