By SEAN DOUGLAS Monday, July 21 2014
BRANDON HARGREAVES, 14, was beaten to death by another youngster of St Michael’s Children’s Home, rather than dying from an accidental fall as initially thought, revealed a Preliminary Report on operations at St Michael’s Home for Boys, dated April 25.
Even worse, the report alludes to a possible cover-up of events by the sending away of a witness to the Youth Training Centre (YTC). “There have been conflicting reports on the manner in which Brandon Greaves died,” the report said.
The report which also unearthed rampant abuse at the St Michael’s Home for Boys in Diego Martin may very well reignite questions surrounding the circumstances which led to Brandon’s death in April of 2013.
The report which shed new light on the teen’s death points to Hargreaves being beaten until he collapsed and stopped moving while two supervisors ignored the fight. It also points to an alleged cover-up in that another inmate who witnessed the beating, was transferred from the Home to the Youth Training Centre (YTC) in Arouca.
Hargreaves’ death triggered a probe ordered by the Ministry of Gender Affairs, Youth and Child Development and was spearheaded by a team comprising the Inspector of Orphanages, director of National Family Services, a Ministry representative and child-care experts. The team examined issues of safety, standards, quality and value for money, looking for instances of abuse, cruelty and neglect.
Last week, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, at a press conference announced he had forwarded copies of the report to the Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, to commence criminal investigations following details of abuse of inmates, including of a sexual nature, at the Home.
It was initially reported that Brandon died after hitting his head when he attempted to jump kick another inmate on April 8, 2013. Another version, alluded to at the AG’s conference last week, was that he fell from the roof of the Home and suffered fatal head injuries.
However, Page 7 of the report, a copy of which was sent to Newsday, details a third and the latest variation of the circumstances surrounding Brandon’s death pointing to a violent beating he suffered at the hands of another inmate.
“One resident who saw the incident reported that resident (name called) literally attacked Brandon, punching him in the chest and head. He further explained that Brandon who was asthmatic, began feeling faint and fell forward to the ground using his hands to block his face.
“On the ground (name called) continued to kick him (Brandon) on the head. Brandon showed no movement after he fell. Two supervisors who were sitting on a bench just outside the door of the dorm apparently totally ignored the fight. It was reiterated that most times, supervisors ignore fights between boys,” stated the report.
The report went on to state that some residents told members of the investigation team that another inmate who witnessed the incident, “and would also (be able to) give an account”, was taken to the YTC after attending Brandon’s funeral.
Contacted yesterday for comment, Brandon’s father Nigel Hargreaves, expressed surprise at the findings of Page 7 of the report saying that after he witnessed Brandon’s autopsy and was given the report on cause of death, he thought Brandon died from injuries caused in a fall.
He said on seeing his son’s body at a funeral home he had not seen any bruises to his face indicative of any sort of beating. Hargreaves added that the autopsy report attributed death to trauma to the back of the head and had documented damage to the spine, all of which led him to assume and believe his son had died from a fall, rather than from a beating.
In the wake of the AG’s forwarding of the report to the acting Commissioner of Police and the DPP, head of the Anglican Church in TT, Bishop Clyde Berkely said he has called in the Board of the St Michael’s Home for Boys — which is jointly administered by the Anglican Church and the Gender Affairs Ministry — to a meeting with him to examine the report and chart a way forward.
Hargreaves shot into the national limelight when on June 18, 2012 he was taken away from his relative’s home in Cascade after it was discovered he had been locked in a dog kennel.
Even his funeral on April 16, last year, made news when bacchanal took place between factions of the family vying to view the body in the casket at St Ann’s RC Church.
Mr Hargreaves yesterday told Newsday that contrary to some media reports he had been a good father to Brandon for the 12 years his son had lived with him, often taking him out to malls and the beach and attending all court hearings when another relative was seeking to have Brandon sent to St Michael’s.
Apart from Brandon’s death, the report based on talks with 13 boys and five staff members, painted a picture of systemic neglect, negligence and abuse of the boys, in aspects as basic as healthy eating, clothing, bedding, leisure, supervision, medical treatment, personal hygiene and counselling.
Violence inflicted as “punishment”
Much violence was inflicted by staff on the boys, says a section, “Punishment”. “Some staff members resort to kicking, slapping, punching and beating,” hit the report.“It appears that corporal punishment is the method used to control the residents (boys).”
Under “comments from residents” the boys allege incidents of staff abuse that are also echoed in “comments from staff”. The boys complained of collective punishment, saying, “If one boy does something, all boys are punished”. They added, “Some staff hit and slap boys for talking too loud. Extra chores are also given. Supervisors hit, slap and kick boys.”
The residents also allege, “Boys are often sent to YTC to get rid of them or to hide staff abuse.”
Staff reiterated the point that some staff try to cover up the violence used against boys.
“Some staff members would physically abuse boys which would be covered up or ignored,” said staff commentators. “Boys are often sent to YTC on fabricated charges to cover up abuse.” Further, staff said when the Ministry was due to visit St Michael’s some boys would be sent away. “Reports of abuse are often ignored and no action taken against staff members.”
Boys were not allowed to pray or follow dietary practices relevant to their own religions but had to say Christian prayers.
The report said the boys were fed mainly bread, cold tea which sometimes had insects and hair in it, and greasy and unhealthy foods. They got little fruit, and there was no consideration for those who don’t eat certain types of meat, or for boys with food allergies who as a result often fell ill. Regarding “activities” the report lamented, “A general lack of activities led to boredom and idleness.” It was a chore to organise football or cricket (partly due to a lack of supervisors), or even to watch television, or to sing in the Love Movement Choir.
St Michael’s lagged in “Health/Hygiene”. Boys had to be seriously ill to get hospital attention, and treatment given to boys getting sick at night seemed to be limited to Panadol. “Boys are allowed to bathe only at certain hours and are denied the opportunity to bathe even after working in the garden. Bathing is allowed only in the morning and at 5 pm.”
The Home offered inadequate counselling, the report found, stating, “Counselling is not being provided to boys as there is no resident counsellor but only a visiting counsellor/welfare officer and only boys on remand are offered counselling as supplied by the Family Court.”
The report criticised some staff for attitudes and conduct towards the boys that defeat the intent of such an institution. “Staff would taunt and verbally abuse boys causing them to react and be sent to YTC,” the report said. “Residents reported that staff attitudes were poor and not reflective of persons who care for children.” Staff displayed ridicule and disrespect to the boys. “Boys complained that they did not feel adequately supervised. Some supervisors were often in their offices or doing other things and not paying attention to the boys.”
The Home lacked positive behaviour modification. “Residents complained there were no programmes in place to assist them in improving their behaviour. They felt like they were treated like prisoners just serving their time.”
Sexual Abuse at St Michael’s
The report also identified several instances of blatant sexual abuse. “Staff claimed there were incidents of sexual abuse between staff and boys and between the residents.” A female member of staff took home a boy, despite allegations of sexual abuse committed by her and she then became pregnant with questions over the paternity of the baby, but no action was taken in that matter.
“The said female member reportedly took a boy to a hotel to engage in sexual activities,” said the report. “A male staff apparently took a photo of a boy’s genitals, and a video of a boy being stripped and shared these via cellphones.”
The report alleged staff taking the boys entitlements. “Staff take a bigger portion of the food, first,” it said. The residents requested an investigation of donated monies.
“They (boys) reported that often they have to carry stock — clothing, toilet paper, soap, shoes, food, etcetera — to personal vehicles of staff and other individuals. They lamented that they have to beg for bedsheets and other basic items,” hit the report. “Residents complain that they rip mattresses and go inside to keep warm as a result of having no bedsheets.”