Former Don Dale guard accused of CCTV cover-up says time at youth prison was 'complete chaos'

A former Northern Territory youth prison guard who was on duty when some boys were tear gassed at a youth detention centre has told an inquiry he was used as a scapegoat.

 

Ben Kelleher worked at Darwin's Don Dale facility in 2014 when boys were shackled, spit hooded and tear gassed after one escaped from solitary confinement and began trashing an exercise yard.

The youth had been held in isolation for 17 days straight, for up to 23 hours per day, and had complained of being treated "like a dog", the royal commission was told.

Mr Kelleher described the Don Dale Behavioural Management Unit where the youth was held as a "s***hole" that was used as a punishment.

The ex-guard also said he had warned his superiors youths were being kept in stiflingly hot and oppressive conditions.

The escaped youth, known as AD, had been demanding to know when he would be released from isolation.

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Mr Kelleher said there were scenes of "complete chaos" with guards armed with shields, batons, helmets and a police dog all "running around like headless chooks."

Former Don Dale Youth Detention Centre guard Ben Kelleher leaves after giving evidence at the Northern Territory juvenile justice royal commission, Darwin, Tuesday. Photo: AAP

When the dog scared AD enough for him to tell officers he had given up and wanted to speak to Mr Kelleher, an officer - according to CCTV footage - responded with "no, you've had your chance."

Mr Kelleher told the hearing he could have got the AD to calm down but the youth and others in the isolation unit were tear gassed shortly after.

He said Don Dale management had unfairly blamed him for the incident and he resigned two months later, claiming he'd received no support or training.

"I never really said anything about how difficult the job was because I didn't want to lose my job," he told the juvenile justice royal commission sitting in Darwin on Tuesday.

Mr Kelleher said guards should be taught how to verbally de-escalate conflict situations.

He has been accused of attempting to cover a CCTV camera and swearing at former Don Dale inmate Dylan Voller while standing over the boy as he cowered on his bed.

Earlier, Mr Kelleher told the hearing about his contact with Voller, including taking him to kickboxing bouts, offering it as an alternative path to crime.

Kelleher told the Royal Commission about his contact with Voller (pictured). Photo: AAP

"The sport also teaches that there is no pride taken in the ability to hurt someone weaker than you," he said.

"Dylan is a boy who had a bad start and I believe he needs strong male role models in his life."

The hearing continues.

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