Call to close detention loophole

Social work chiefs are to lobby the Home Office to close a legal
loophole that prevented a court from imposing a detention and
training order on a teenage girl who had head-butted and punched
two staff at a secure children’s home.

The 15-year-old, known as N, serving a four year sentence for
false imprisonment and assault, was sentenced to an extra eight
months for committing affray at Stamford House secure children’s
home, west London.

But last week, Judge Justin Philips had to overturn his own
ruling after realising that a previous Court of Appeal case meant
that an extra detention and training order could not be

Judge Philips said he did so under protest: “This court views
with abhorrence the message which will circulate to detainees and
their detainers.”

The Association of Directors of Social Services is appealing to
the Youth Justice Board, while Hammersmith and Fulham Council is to
lobby the Home Office to close the loophole.

Robert Lake, ADSS spokesperson on secure units, said: “It sounds
like the court has been disempowered from doing anything about
assaults on staff. I would be very worried for staff on my own
secure unit if there is no effective sanction by the court. What
the judge is saying is that it gives licence to these young people
to do what they like.

“Our work with young offenders on getting them to understand the
consequences of their behaviour is essential – it’s part of their
treatment programme. Staff within the secure estate are amazing
people and the law should be there to protect them.”

Angus MacKay, project director of London Secure Services that
runs Stamford House, said the ruling made it unlikely that the
organisation would accept further placements of young people with a
history of assaulting staff.

“Previously we would have taken them,” he said. “Now people will
be reluctant to take them on when they know there’s not that
support or sanction available.

“It may mean additional funding is needed to work with them, in
terms of psychological and psychiatric support.”

McKay said assaults on staff at the unit were lower than in
young offenders’ institutions. “Our work is about engagement with
young people and building a positive relationship.”

Geoff Alltimes, social services director at Hammersmith and
Fulham Council, said: “Staff at Stamford House work with some of
the country’s most challenging young people. Many come from violent
backgrounds, but we feel strongly that their previous criminal
behaviour should not continue unchecked while in our care.

“We understand, but do not accept the court’s decision to drop
the original sentence and will be lobbying the government to ensure
that the loophole is closed for good.”

The court heard that N head-butted staff member Declan Flanagan
as she was being escorted with five other girls back from an
exercise yard in January.

When Flanagan’s colleague, Michael Reilly, tried to restrain
another girl, N punched him in the face. She has since been
transferred from Stamford House.

N was sent to Stamford House for the kidnap and torture of a
13-year-old girl in Scarborough. The victim was beaten and doused
with hot coffee, then had her hair cut off with scissors and
removed with depilatory cream, in revenge for her giving evidence
in another court case.

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