THE way some teenage detention centre inmates were treated in the 1970s and 1980s could be officially classed as torture, a leading child abuse lawyer has said.

David Greenwood, who has acted for victims of the Rotherham abuse scandal, is calling for a public inquiry into what went on behind bars in institutions such as Eastwood Park Detention Centre in Falfield, up to 40 years ago.

He said the UK signed up to the UN Convention Against Torture in 1984, but young inmates were subjected to cruel, degrading punishments even after that point.

Often the crimes they committed would these days warrant a community punishment.

Seven former prison guards at a detention centre in northern England are currently being prosecuted following allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

And Mr Greenwood has worked with other claimants who were locked up at different institutions who allege they were tortured.

The solicitor said: "These young men were a forgotten segment of society and people viewed them as worthless.

"It was torture and in any prison, in any battlefield, it would not be tolerated, yet it was systematic in our detention centres in the 1970s and '80s."

Mr Greenwood, a director of Switalskis Solicitors, said: "These boys were locked up, they could not run away but were subjected to what I would describe as torture from prison officers.

"I submitted a complaint to the UN concerning this and the UK's lack of adherence to the convention in this regard.

"I am still waiting to hear from the UN officials in charge of monitoring."

Inmates at Eastwood Park Detention Centre have told Mr Greenwood they were punched if they did not answer officers' responses with "sir".

The lawyer added: "They would be regularly punched for the slightest misdemeanour and were also whipped with a length of rubber pipe."

A poem written by an ex-Eastwood Park inmate refers to being made to stay in a sitting position but without being allowed to use a chair.

Mr Greenwood said these men, now in their 50s, deserve compensation and answers.

"I am working with a group of the men to call for a full public inquiry into the treatment of our young people by prison staff in the 1970s and 1980s," he said.

"I hope to influence the Home Secretary to order an inquiry."

A prisons service spokesman said: "There is already an inquiry looking into these allegations, which is part of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse."

He said it would be inappropriate to comment on allegations of abuse at a specific detention centre which were subject to an ongoing police investigation.