THREE prison officers who led a brutal regime at a "hell hole" jail where traumatised young inmates were treated "like animals" have been locked up for a total of 13 and a half years.

A judge ruled that the "culturally violent regime" at Medomsley Detention Centre was designed to "crush the will" of terrified teenage inmates, rendering them powerless to complain or fight back.

The investigation into the "systematic abuse and degradation" at Medomsley is thought to be the UK's largest ever abuse probe with over 1,800 separate complaints examined.

Victims were traumatised for life by the savage daily beatings they suffered and some would encourage fellow inmates to break their arms and legs because being taken to hospital was their only means of escaping the brutality.

After a series of trials at Teesside Crown Court five former warders were convicted for their parts in the horror at the centre for teenage offenders near Consett. County Durham, during the seventies and early 80s.

And this afternoon Christopher Onslow, 73, John McGee, 75, and Kevin Blakely, 67, were jailed for a total of 13 years and five months.

Onslow - a physical training instructor who "exploited his position of authority in a consistently sadistic and brutal fashion" - received an eight and a half year sentence.

Among his offences he was convicted of wounding with intent which involved meting out a ferocious beating with a football boot because he deemed that the inmate had not cleaned it properly.

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Medomsley Detention Centre

The teenager was smashed in the face with the boot, causing a broken nose and was struck with it again to the side of the head, tearing his ear.

The assault continued as Onslow, frothing at the mouth, dragged the boy to the floor and hurled heavy medicine balls at him.

In a statement read to the court, the victim said: "Being inside that place was torture, Medomsley was an absolute hell hole.

"I deserved to be punished for the crimes I committed but not with the kickings and beatings I sustained.

"The attack on me by Onslow was the most violent experience of my life and I thought I was going to die that day.

"I would like to see justice not just for myself but to all the others who were beaten, humiliated and worse in that place."

Onslow - sometimes referred to by his nickname The Machine - picked on one overweight inmate and along with another warder used bricks and stones to knock him from cargo netting on an obstacle course where he had become stuck.

The lad's agonised cries at falling between 12ft and 20ft were met with the words: "Shut up you soft bastard there's nothing wrong with you" from Onslow.

He was left in a body cast for weeks when he was eventually taken to hospital with three crushed vertebrae - but still felt relief that he was no longer behind the prison walls.

John McGee was jailed for two years and ten months.

Flashback: Det Chief Supt Adrian Green announcing the prosecutions

One of his victims was a teenage inmate, who was 5ft 5ins tall and weighed just eight and a half stone, on his first day in Medomlsey.

Burly McGee ordered him to stand to attention but then punched him in the face, bursting his nose. The shock was such that the boy soiled himself in terror and was then forced to bunny hop to the showers by his attacker.

Kevin Blakely was jailed for two years and nine months and was told he had been part of a "culturally brutal regime" by Judge Howard Crowson.

In his sentencing remarks Judge Crowson told all three men: "These offences were more than a collection of assaults, they represent a grievous breach of the trust placed in prison officers by members of the public.

"The violence and brutality towards these trainees caused some physical injury but it was designed to crush their will and to make them feel terrified and powerless. and it succeeded.

"They felt they could not complain and those who did were told to continue their complaints could result in a return to Medomlsey."

Eight victims made statements to say their lives had been ruined as a result of their incarceration in Medomsley, where inmates were rounded up and beaten by warders on their arrival to set the tone for the rest of their sentence.

One told how he suffered post traumatic stress disorder, rarely left the house, had no employment prospects, little contact with his three children and still suffered flashbacks and nightmares of his time in Medomsley 37 years ago.

He wryly said in his statement: "The short, sharp shock treatment sure worked for me."

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Offenders at Medomsley

Another said: "It was a violent place and I believe we were treated like animals. I try to forget about what happened there and get on with my life as best I can."

Prosecutor Jamie Hill, QC, told the court: "The charges represent examples of systematic abuse and degradation on a daily basis of large numbers of prisoners."

The case arose from Operation Seabrook, opened by a team of 70 detectives in August 2013 and 32 former warders were interviewed, with seven facing court in a series of three trials.

Throughout the trials 71 complainants were called as witnesses and some 23,280 documents were prepared by police during the investigation.

When he opened the first trial in September last year, Mr Hill said: "This was violence seemingly carried out for the enjoyment of the officers. And they were serious crimes then as much as they would be now.

"To simply say that it was a different time with different attitudes would be to abdicate responsibility for investigating serious allegations of crime against people made vulnerable due to their incarceration.

"We say they were victims of a system where it was impossible to have a voice.

"They were beaten into submission, the fact that they were young offenders meant it was less likely they would be believed and they knew it."

Medomsley, he said, was one of the detention centres set up to give offenders the "short sharp shock" promised in the 1979 Conservative manifesto.It was open from 1961 until 1987.

All the of the defendants denied all charges against them.

Onslow was convicted of misconduct in public office between 1975 and December 1980, a separate charge of misconduct in public office covering a later period from January 1981 to December 1985, inflicting grievous bodily harm to the boy on the cargo net and three charges of assault causing actual bodily harm, wounding with intent.

John McGee was convicted of misconduct in a public office and assault causing actual bodily harm.
Kevin Blakely was convicted of misconduct in public office but cleared of assault causing actual bodily harm.

For Onslow, Toby Hedworth, QC, said the events at Medomsley were "part of a bygone age."

He said: "Whatever we now think about how such a regime was likely to pan out, it was, as we heard abundantly in evidence, something that was believed in by those that set it up.

"The idea that the offenders in detention centres should be somehow rehabliitated did not seem to be part of what was intended. What was designed was discipline and training.

"Those within that system, without appropriate leadership, may have taken the easiest route to ensure the system ran in the way they thought it was meant to."

Caroline Goodwin, QC, for McGee, said: "This is a man who had prided himself on exemplary conduct and years of good service, often putting his own safety at risk."

She described him as "a proud man who stood tall on every occasion" who was also the carer for his wife, who was in poor health.

Simon Kealey, QC, for Blakely said: "He continued to work in the prison service for many years and had an otherwise unblemished career. When he left he carried on serving the public."

Christopher Onslow, 73, was jailed for eight-and-a-half years. John McGee, 75, was jailed for two years and 10 months. Kevin Blakely, 67, was jailed for two years and  nine months.