DETECTIVES, who fear an organised paedophile ring may have been responsible for abuse at a North-East detention centre, said last night their investigation had widened to include a number of deaths.
Police say there is growing evidence of an organised paedophile ring operating at the former Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett, County Durham, 40 years ago.
More than 500 victims have contacted Durham Constabulary alleging sexual and physical abuse at the Home Office-run centre, near Consett, between the late 1960s and early 1980s.
A previous police investigation led to the conviction of prison officer Neville Husband who was jailed for ten years for sexually abusing several teenagers at the centre.
After being released from prison, he died of natural causes at his home, in nearby Shotley Bridge, four years ago.
A new investigation, launched in August last year, has become the largest of its kind the force has dealt with.
Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry who is leading the inquiry codenamed Operation Seabrook, said his team would be re-examining files of all deaths at Medomsley.
He said: “We will be working with the County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle to review all the deaths that happened in Medomsley.
“We will be briefing him and looking at the deaths as a line of inquiry.”
The Northern Echo is aware of two deaths, including that of 17-year-old David Caldwell, from Hebburn, in January 1982.
He suffered a severe asthma attack at the centre and was pronounced dead on arrival at nearby Shotley Bridge Hospital.
The teenager, who was serving a three-month sentence for theft, had allegedly been left unsupervised on Medomsley’s medical wing for two hours as his condition deteriorated.
An inquest concluded the youth had died of natural causes, but his family alleged he had been beaten and forced to do harsh physical training in the weeks leading up to his death.
Sister Carole Kyle last night welcomed a review into her brother’s death.
She said: “I am pleased my brother's death will be reviewed. My family and I want justice for him and would like to see a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.
“I know that he died of asthma, but have always said he was brought on by his ill-treatment at Medomsley.
“When I went to visit him before he died I noticed bruises on his neck. He told me prison officers had done it, but did not want me to complain as he feared his treatment would get worse.”
Police say their investigation has uncovered evidence of a culture of violence far beyond the system of governance they expected to find.
Referring to the David Caldwell case, Det Supt Goundry said: “”The family came forward during the initial investigation in 2001 when the case was reviewed by a senior investigation officer.
“Obviously they didn’t have the 500 victims that have come forward today. We will review that file when we have worked through all the victims that have come forward. We are working with the family.”
In 2009, the Government paid 12 Medomsley victims a total of £512,000 in compensation for what they suffered. However, the Home Secretary Jack Straw refused to apologise.
Det Supt Goundry said that, as well as sex abuse at the centre, there was evidence of a brutal regime "where violence was both extreme and routine".
He said: “We always knew this would be a major inquiry, but the scale of it and the sheer number of victims who have come forward has been a shock.
"From the statements, there is growing evidence to suggest there was an organised paedophile ring operating in Medomsley.
"This will form a major part of our operation and future discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service."
Police have not ruled out prosecutions, even though the alleged incidents happened four decades ago.
Anyone with information should contact detectives on 101 or any of the support services advertised on a dedicated page set up on durham.police.uk.