Panorama episode on G4S-run youth jail abuses breached Ofcom rules by broadcasting real name of vulnerable teen

An episode of Panorama about the abuse of children at a scandal-hit G4S-run youth jail has been found to be in breach of one of Ofcom’s broadcasting rules, the media watchdog has said.

The investigative current affairs programme, broadcast on BBC One on 11 January 2016, included secretly filmed footage which appeared to show the excessive use of force on young people at Medway Secure Training Centre (MSTC) in Rochester, Kent.

Robert Padmore managed to get a job at the centre and filmed undercover from October to December 2015 for the episode, which won a Bafta and led to a police investigation into the conduct of the centre’s staff.

Four members of G4S staff were dismissed from MSTC after the programme was shown, although a court case against them collapsed earlier this year.

The broadcasting regulator said Rule 1.28 of the Broadcasting Code, requiring that “due care” must be taken to protect the physical and emotional welfare and dignity of people under 18 who take part or are otherwise involved in programmes, was breached in the case of one young person who was included in the programme, whose real first name was disclosed.

Although referred to by Panorama by the pseudonym Billy, the 14-year-old’s real name was audible on one occasion. His name was used in two other instances, although on both times they were “almost inaudible”, Ofcom said.

The youngster’s mother was also interviewed for the programme, and her face was not blurred, adding to concerns that he could be identifiable.

The BBC said the lapses happened in post-production because the episode was broadcast earlier than intended, and that it was the “result of a genuine error which was only spotted as the programme was being transmitted”.

The episode was originally scheduled to be shown on 18 January 2016, but was brought forward by one week because security company G4S had announced that it had referred allegations of staff conduct for investigation.

Ofcom said it acknowledged the “detailed steps and extensive efforts” taken by the show’s makers before and during production to ensure compliance with its rule around children under the age of 18.

But in the post-production stage, there were lapses in the BBC’s due care of Billy, it said, adding that although it acknowledged “mistakes and oversights” could occur in the editing of programmes, “this failure by the BBC could have seriously compromised the care of Billy and was avoidable”.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We found that the BBC broke our rules by failing to meet its duty of care towards a vulnerable child in this episode.

“Clearly there was significant public interest in the programme’s exposure of the alleged mistreatment of young offenders, but the BBC had a responsibility to safeguard the privacy of all the young people involved.

“Some serious lapses in the production process meant this didn’t happen for one young person featured in the programme.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We accept and regret that due to extreme time pressures, the programme team inadvertently broadcast the real first name of a minor in the initial transmission.

“Panorama took immediate steps to correct the programme on iPlayer and there have been no negative consequences as a result, with the boy’s mother saying that he has not been identified by those who did not already know him.

“We are pleased that Ofcom have acknowledged the clear and significant public interest in this investigation which exposed the mistreatment and bullying of young people and led to G4S losing the contract to run Medway Secure Training Centre as well as a serious case review.”

Another case, involving a 16-year-old boy named under the pseudonym Lee, was found not to be in breach of the same rule, Ofcom said.

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