SENIOR Government ministers were twice warned that young inmates were being abused by staff at a detention centre - but dismissed it as unfounded, The Northern Echo can reveal.

The Home Office was alerted to allegations of violent abuse inside Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett, but both times failed to intervene.

A total of 520 alleged victims have since come forward to say they were physically or sexually abused in Medomsley after a fresh inquiry was launched by Durham Police in August.

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Detectives say there is growing evidence of an organized paedophile ring operating at the Home Office run centre 30 to 40 years ago.

Documents from The Northern Echo's archives reveal, as early as 1967, Consett MP David Watkins wrote to Home Secretary Roy Jenkins to raise concerns over alleged brutality after a 17-year-old inmate from Stanley was hospitalised for five weeks His family claimed he was repeatedly attacked by prison staff and assaulted with a sweeping brush.

The accusations resulted in two other teenagers to claim they were also beaten and saw boys being kicked on the ground after collapsing with exhaustion during punishment exercises.

Nine days later, Home Office minister Lord Stonham said "careful inquiries had been made" and there was "nothing to substantiate" such claims.

A second chance to intervene was missed in 1982 when Mr Watkins called for a full inquiry into the running of Medomsley following the deaths of two teenage inmates.

The family of 17-year-old David Caldwell, from Hebburn, alleged he was beaten and given harsh physical training in the weeks leading up to his death from an asthma attack.

But a brief inquiry by Home Office minister Lord Belstead, at the height of paedophile prison officer Neville Husband's reign of terror inside Medomsley, found the maltreatment claims were unproven and cleared the centre of blame.

Mr Caldwell's sister, Carole Kyle, told The Northern Echo: "I feel the case should be reopened and the circumstances surrounding my brother's death investigated again.

"I wish that something had been done about it then. If they had it would have spared a lot more people the misery. They just got away with it . . . for years.

"Obviously if they were doing it to one person they would have been doing it to more. I feel those first investigations were a whitewash."

In 2003 - 16 years after the detention centre closed - Husband was jailed for systematically raping youngsters.

His storeman friend, Leslie Johnson, was jailed for similar offences. Both have since died.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "The outcome of the ongoing police investigation will be considered in due course. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time."