The former director-general of the prison service Martin Narey has admitted that the service dealt inadequately with sexual abuse during his tenure, following a Guardian investigation into the sexual abuse of young offenders by prison officer Neville Husband.
Narey, who worked with Husband and was director-general from 1998 to 2003, admitted to the Guardian: "As director-general, I was intolerant of physical abuse and racism and sacked a lot of staff ... but at that time there was very little awareness of male-on-male sexual abuse, either in prisons or in wider society."
Husband, who ran the kitchen at Medomsley detention centre in County Durham, is know to have sexually abused teenage boys between 1977 and 1985. When the prison service suggested that he be promoted to a different establishment, governors wrote letters supporting his applications to remain at Medomsley. When he was finally moved, to Deerbolt young offenders' institution, another allegation of sex abuse was made. Husband left the prison service in 1990 and went on to run two churches in Gateshead, where children in his congregation also complained of abuse, though parents did not pursue the matter. He was eventually convicted in 2003 of sexually abusing five young inmates at Medomsley and sentenced to eight years. He died a year after his release in 2010.
The Guardian investigation has found that 26 victims have so far come forward. It is estimated that Husband abused hundreds of young offenders during his 25 years in the prison service.
Shockingly, Husband's interest in young boys was known as far back as 1969, 34 years before he was convicted, when he was arrested at Portland borstal, Dorset, and charged with the importation of pornography from Europe. The material seized included sado-masochistic images involving teenage boys. Husband admitted showing the material to boys in his care, but the charges were dropped when he said he was conducting research into homosexuality.
At Husband's trial, prison officers admitted "there was general knowledge" among staff about Husband's sexual abuse but that they did nothing about it.
Speaking in today's Weekend magazine, the former Medomsley boys, now men in their 50s, talk about Husband's impact on their life. Kevin Young became addicted to drink and drugs; Richard Hall attempted suicide and says he still thinks about killing himself every day. Young went to report his abuse the day he left Medomsley, but he said police told him not to pursue the complaint unless he wanted to be returned to the detention centre. Until recently, Durham police denied that he had made a statement on his release, but they now admit that a number of complaints were made by former inmates, "particularly in the 1970s and 1980s". Victims now say they are considering suing the police.
Narey, who went on to be chief executive of Barnardo's, the charity for vulnerable children, believes that the officers who had failed to report their suspicions should be investigated. "There is hardly a hair's-breadth of culpability between Neville Husband, who abused children, and any of the staff who apparently knew about this and failed to take their concerns forward. In my view there is a case for the police considering whether their failure to protect children amounted to aiding and abetting."
Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said: "It would be dangerously complacent to imagine these things could only happen in the past. There is always a danger that in closed institutions ? be they prisons, children's homes or hospitals ? abusive behaviour by some staff becomes the accepted norm. We need to recognise the vulnerability inherent in the situation of every detainee ."
David Ramsbottom, the former chief inspector of prisons, said: "In light of what is described, it is essential that the authorities review current procedures, to satisfy themselves that every practical measure is being taken to try to ensure that such abuses cannot happen in any establishment containing young people. It has everything to gain and nothing to lose from a public inquiry, because it can be seen to have been telling the truth, which will increase trust in it. If it refuses to conduct affairs openly, it has only itself to blame if its word is not believed. But time is the enemy here ? it would have been so much better had the inquiry been conducted 20 or more years ago."
When the Medomsley victims sought compensation after Husband's conviction, the Home Office used the statute of limitations to avoid payment. Eventually, in 2009, it paid out £512,000 to 12 men. But cases are still being settled. When asked whether it still had the records from Medomsley, which was shut down in 1988, the Ministry of Justice told the Guardian: "There is ongoing civil litigation concerning the establishment, so it would be inappropriate at this stage to comment on what evidence is or is not available."
The victims of Medomsley have never received an apology for the abuse they suffered in care. When Stephen Byers, then MP for some of the victims, wrote to the then justice minister, Jack Straw, in 2010, Straw replied: "The terms of the agreement did not include an apology."