G4S, the death of a black teenager and the public sector equality duty
Gareth Myatt was a 15-year-old boy who died when being physically restrained by guards in a secure training centre. He was a tiny boy, being only 4ft 10inches and weighing 6½ stone. He lost his temper and was held down by two guards, adult men.
I can’t breathe…
He told the guards that he couldn’t breathe, and they replied “if you can shout, you can breathe”. He told them he wanted to go to the toilet. They still held him down and he defecated. At some point a third guard joined them. After a while Gareth’s body went limp. The guards tried to resuscitate him but their attempts were unsuccessful. The cause of death was recorded as acid reflux.
The reason that I know about this case is that I’ve recently read some of the cases that are related to the public sector equality duty. In Gareth’s case, a training manual had been changed with no consultation being done with the relevant authorities. His case also asked questions of the Human Rights Act as he had defecated (is that inhumane and degrading treatment?). The guards stripped his cell as a punishment, which meant removing a piece of paper with his mother’s mobile phone number on it (human rights also talk of the peaceful enjoyment of possessions and the right to family life).
This case isn’t new; Gareth died in 2004. A public outcry followed his death. There was an inquest and the case was joined with the death of another boy, Adam Rickwood. Adam hanged himself after being hit by a Serco guard. Gareth is described as “black” in some court papers but his mum described him as mixed race. Adam was white and there are no particular equalities considerations related to his case, but their cases were joined in court proceedings because of their similarities.
In the last few years, much of the public sector has had to contract, meaning that changes to services are necessary. I make no apology for being fascinated by the scale of the case law that has come out because it clarifies exactly what officers who work in the public sector have to do. They have to give their decision-makers all of the facts so that when equality analysis is done there are no misconceptions about the full impact on communities and equality target groups.