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Former Durham prison staff interviewed as part of a long running abuse investigation

November 13, 2014, 6:13 pm

Detectives investigating allegations of historic sexual and physical abuse on inmates at a County Durham young offenders centre have begun interviewing former members of prison staff.

In August 2013 Durham Constabulary announced the force was opening a new investigation – named ‘Operation Seabrook – into allegations from ex-inmates of Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett.

The ex-detainees were all in their ‘teens when they were sent to Medomsley at various dates from the 1960s to when Medomsley closed in 1988, for what were often relatively minor offences.

They typically spent six to eight weeks at the Home Office-run centre before being released.

Previous police investigations in 2003 and 2005 led to the conviction and jailing of Neville Husband and Leslie Johnson, former members of staff at the centre who have since died.

Since August last year, a total of 915 men have contacted the Operation Seabrook team to report they were victims of either sexual or physical assaults. Of these, approximately one-third have reported they were sexually assaulted by either Husband or Johnston.

On Thursday last week the first of four men to be interviewed so far was invited to attend a police station on a voluntary basis in order to be interviewed by detectives on the Seabrook team. A further three have since been interviewed on the same basis, with all those spoken to attending police stations in either Durham or Consett.

All were prison officers at Medomsley at different times during the 1970s and 1980s who have since retired. They were formally interviewed under caution, but not arrested.

They were then free to leave once the interviews finished, however they could be interviewed again in future.

The officer leading Operation Seabrook, Det Supt Paul Goundry said there had always been a number of key objectives for the investigation.

“Our initial priority was to gain a full understanding of how Medomsley Detention Centre operated during that time. We also needed to make counselling and professional support available to anyone who needed help, and I am really pleased that almost 200 victims have taken up this offer.

“Many of those who have contacted us had never revealed to anyone else what had happened to them at Medomsley all those years ago. It has been a traumatic experience for some, and I appreciate their courage in coming forward and making that initial call.

“A principal aim was to identify a number of people we needed to speak to about the allegations that have been made. The actions we are now taking are crucial to that aspect of the operation, and there are a number of other former employees we will be making contact with over the next few weeks.

“We have been liaising with the Prison Officers Association over the last few months and anyone we interview is made aware of the legal support the POA can provide.

“There is still a huge amount of work which has to be done and we are in close contact with the Crown Prosecution Service, who ultimately will decide if there are grounds to charge individuals with criminal offences.”

At various stages up to 70 detectives from the forces major crime team and safeguarding teams have been involved at various stages in Operation Seabrook. Counselling and support for victims of Medomsley remains available via the local Sexual Assault Referral Centre, known as The Meadows – 0191 301 8554.

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