Unlawful force contributed to death of boy, 14, in cell
- 27 January 2011
- From the section England
An unlawful use of force contributed to the decision of a 14-year-old boy to take his own life at a youth custody centre, an inquest jury has concluded.
Adam Rickwood, from Burnley in Lancashire, was found hanged in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham in August 2004.
Hours before he died he was struck on the nose, using the Nose Distraction Technique, and carried to his cell.
He was the youngest person to die in UK custody in the modern era.
The inquest in Easington, County Durham, heard he was an "extremely troubled and vulnerable young man" with a history of cannabis abuse when he was sent to the centre near Medomsley, 150 miles from his home town.
He was on remand after he had been charged with wounding another youth.
'Swept under carpet'
On the day he died, Adam had rowed with a female member of staff in the association area and was lifted by four care officers and placed face-down in his room.
The inquest was told that on the way, care officer Steve Hodgson used the Nose Distraction Technique - a sharp painful blow to the nose - to stop the boy trying to bite him.
His nose bled afterwards and he was left alone in his room to calm down.
Adam spoke to members of staff and he did not seem too despondent afterwards, but six hours later he was found dead in his room.
The jury concluded there had been a serious system failure at the centre which led to an unlawful regime.
They found that staff at Hassockfield were not properly trained in High Risk Assessment Team (HRAT) procedures designed to safeguard trainees who might self-harm, nor in suicide awareness skills and behaviour management.
They also found that staff had not been adequately trained by the Prison Service in the use of Physical Control in Care (PCC) techniques.
The inquest found that at the time of Adam's death, the Youth Justice Board should have been aware the PCC was being used unlawfully, which was a "serious system failure" at the secure training centre (STC).
It found Adam should have been assigned a replacement key worker when his own went off sick and that Hassockfield had failed to effectively implement an HRAT programme to safeguard him.
It also concluded a mistake had been made in "closing the book" on Adam with regard to HRAT care in July 2004.
It found neither Hassockfield nor the Lancashire Youth Offending Team had dealt appropriately with the teenager's request to be moved to an STC closer to his family home.
Care officers should have been made aware of an entry in the HRAT book, which detailed Adam's self-harm when angry, and the book should have been reopened after Adam was restrained on the night of his death, the inquest found.
The jury ruled the teenager should have been checked by staff every 15 minutes after he had been put on lock-down that night.
The jury also found Adam was unlawfully restrained and hurt in a way that contributed to his taking his own life.
It said the guards had genuinely believed they were acting lawfully at the time.
Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Hilary Grant previously told the inquest she considered the restraint technique and the use of nose distraction on Adam had more than minimally contributed to his death.
Rajiv Menom, speaking for the teenager's mother Carol Pounder, said the verdict condemned the Youth Justice Board and the entire prison system.
Mrs Pounder said she wanted the guards who restrained Adam to be prosecuted and would be seeking legal advice in the near future.
Speaking outside the court, she said: "I feel that at last I have got some sort of justice for Adam.
"I have had six-and-a-half years of waiting for this today and I feel like at last I have got some answers.
"What I have not had is for Serco or the Youth Justice Board (YJB) to put their hands up and say: 'Sorry, we got it wrong'.
"They have not just killed Adam, they have killed thousands and thousands of other children locked up in prisons across the country.
'Very, very long wait'
"I'm hoping to have the staff charged with assaulting Adam.
"They should be facing court proceedings for assaulting a little boy, because that's what Adam was, a little boy."
She added: "If you or I had done that to Adam or another child we would be locked up.
"But because they work for the government it was swept under the carpet."
Assistant deputy coroner Jeremy Freedman told Mrs Pounder he hoped the inquest finding would bring finality, if not closure to her torment.
He said: "She has had a very, very long wait for this outcome. It would have been an unbelievably difficult time. None of us could imagine or appreciate it.
"It is a cliche to say that somehow you will find closure but at least there is some finality here."
Serco, which runs the centre, has expressed its condolences to Adam's family.
A spokesman for the YJB also expressed its condolences and unequivocally accepted the verdict of the jury, adding that measures had been taken since Adam's death to ensure that what happened could not happen again.
YJB Chief Executive John Drew, said: "Keeping young people in custody safe is our highest priority. We have made huge progress in this area since 2004.
"As a result there have been dramatic reductions in the use of restraint and in the risk of injuries to young people in custody.
"There is always more that can be done to improve things and we will study the verdict carefully with this in mind."