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 Five men convicted of abusing inmates at former detention centre

 12/03/2019

​FIVE men have been found guilty of physically abusing and assaulting young men at the former Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett.


The men, who are all former members of staff, were convicted of physically abusing inmates at the centre during the 1970s and 1980s following three trials at Teesside Crown Court.


The trials began in September last year, but their convictions can only now be reported after restrictions on media coverage were lifted by a judge today.


An investigation into allegations of abuse at the detention centre, which closed in 1988, was launched by Durham Constabulary in August 2013.


Named Operation Seabrook, it is now one of the largest investigations of its kind in the UK, with 1,676 men having come forward to police to report allegations of abuse while detained at the centre.


Having initially been run by the force’s Major Crime Team, a dedicated Operation Seabrook team was later launched due to the growing number of former inmates coming forward to police.


During the trials, 71 complainants gave evidence of their experiences while detained at Medomsley. This included regular assaults at the hands of the officers, some of which resulted in broken bones, fractures, black eyes and other more permanent injuries.  


The officer leading the investigation, Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Green, said: “This has been an incredibly long and complex investigation spanning more than five years.


“When we launched Operation Seabrook back in August 2013, we could never have envisaged the huge numbers of men coming forward to report abuse while detained at Medomsley.


“We have worked hard to ensure victims and survivors are listened to and supported throughout the investigation and subsequent court process. We have kept victims informed and assisted in ensuring they received appropriate support from other agencies.


“The investigation team faced an enormous challenge due to the sheer scale of the enquiry, the nature of the offences and the time that has elapsed.


“The team of committed and dedicated investigators have worked hard to investigate all reported incidents of abuse and gather evidence to present in court.


“We appreciate that for the victims and survivors of abuse at Medomsley Detention Centre, it has taken courage to come forward and tell police what happened to them. It is not easy to relive such distressing incidents, but we hope that they have found some solace in reporting their stories to police, being listened to, and that the issues at Medomsley are being discussed in public.”    

 

The offenders
Christopher Onslow, 72, was the officer in charge of physical training at Medomsley between 1975 and 1985.

He was found guilty of three counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH), one of inflicting grievous bodily harm (GBH) and one of wounding with intent to cause GBH.

He was also convicted of two counts of misconduct in a public office, which encompasses a number of incidents in which he assaulted and abused prisoners in his charge, amounting to an abuse of the public’s trust in a prison officer.

Many of Onslow’s assaults happened in the gym. Victims told the court how they would self-harm to try and avoid the gym, with some persuading other inmates to break their legs in an attempt to be hospitalised. 

In one particular incident in 1975, Onslow targeted an inmate who had become stuck at the top of a cargo net on an obstacle course. Onslow, together with an unknown officer, began picking up rocks and throwing them at the inmate. He was knocked off balance and fell backwards onto the ground.

After being forced to his feet and walked, in excruciating pain, to the medical room, he was eventually taken to Shotley Bridge Hospital where he was found to have three crushed vertebrae and was in a body cast for several weeks.

John McGee, 74, worked at Medomsley as a prison officer between January 1975 and February 1982. He was found guilty of misconduct in a public office and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

During his trial, the court heard how one of his victims, who he punched in the ribs, described him as the ‘most feared officer’. Another was punched in the face by McGee unexpectedly during a morning dormitory inspection, bursting his nose and causing the victim to soil himself in fear.

Onslow and McGee have since submitted appeals against their convictions for misconduct in a public office. These appeals are currently ongoing.

Brian Johnson Greenwell, 71, worked at Medomsley between 1973 and 1988. He was found guilty of misconduct in a public office.

The charge encompasses a number of incidents in which he assaulted inmates. It includes one occasion where he knocked an inmate semi-conscious for shaving too slowly.

Kevin Blakely, 67, was posted to Medomsley in 1974 and remained there until 1983.

He was found guilty of two counts of misconduct in a public office, which covered a number of violent incidents. These included an inmate being punched after trying to report alleged sexual abuse, and another who was kicked three or four times in the head while in bed, causing extensive bruising to his eyes, cheek and jawbone.

Alan Bramley, 70, worked at Medomsley from March 1973 until 1977.

He was found guilty of one count of misconduct in a public office, which covered a number of violent incidents.

During the trial, the court heard how Bramley was described by an inmate as a ‘violent officer’ and that he would hit the inmate for no reason.

On one occasion, Bramley accused the inmate of pulling faces behind another officer’s back. Bramley then punched him hard in the stomach, causing him to double up. The inmate also said Bramley would stand on his hands when he was scrubbing floors.

The five men will be sentenced at a later date.

Two other former officers, Neil Sowerby and David McClure, were cleared of all charges.

Operation Seabrook remains ongoing. Anyone who believes they are a victim and has not already contacted police should call Durham Constabulary on 101, or email operation.seabrook@durham.pnn.police.uk