THE mother of a teenager found hanged in his cell only hours after being unlawfully restrained, last night called for the staff responsible to face prosecution.

The jury at an inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood yesterday found that the painful techniques used to restrain the 14-year-old had contributed to his suicide and their use led to “an unlawful regime” at the privately-run centre.

The troubled teenager was found dead at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, near Consett, County Durham, six hours after being restrained by four officers, who carried him to his cell and left him with a bleeding nose.

Loading article content

After the verdict, his mother, Carol Pounder, said: “They should be facing court proceedings for assaulting a little boy, because that’s what Adam was – a little boy. It was a failure by everybody. The Home Office, the Youth Justice Board, Serco – they all failed Adam and cannot get away with what they have done.”

The charity Inquest called for meaningful changes in order to safeguard lives in the future, while Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We would like the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether there is a case for instituting corporate manslaughter against Serco.”

After a three-week inquest in Easington, the jury of five men and four women took less than two hours to return a verdict which highlighted a serious system failure. They found the unlawful use of Physical Control in Care (PCC) on Adam, and the fact that he was being held 150 miles from his home in Burnley, had contributed to his suicide on August 9, 2004. Adam had been at Hassockfield on remand for wounding.

The jury found that Youth Justice Board monitors should have been aware that PCC was being unlawfully used and that staff, who “genuinely believed” that they were behaving lawfully, were inadequately trained.

The hearing before Deputy Assistant Coroner Jeremy Freedman was ordered by the High Court which quashed the findings of the first inquest held in 2007, on the grounds it was flawed.

In that case, the jury was not told Adam’s removal from association, the way he was restrained and the use of the pain-inducing nose distraction technique were illegal.

Jurors in this inquest were told that PCC could only be used to prevent a detainee escaping, or from causing harm to others or himself, or damaging property, whereas Adam had merely refused an order to go to his room and was not being violent.

Speaking after the hearing, inquest co-director Deborah Coles said: “This is a dramatic victory and is a vindication of Adam’s family.

“It comes against a background of secrecy and denial by the Youth Justice Board and Serco.

“What is deeply shocking is that it has taken more than six years for the truth of how a vulnerable young boy was treated in a private prison.

“It has taken this family’s battle to expose the fact that children were being systematically restrained unlawfully – and yet none of the state bodies charged with the regulation and inspection of these places did anything about it.”

She added: “The Government must now respond and implement meaningful changes in order to safeguard lives in the future.”

Mrs Pounder added: “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 to put their hands up and say ‘Sorry, we got it wrong’.”

A Serco spokesman said: “Adam’s death was a tragedy.

Our thoughts are with his family and all those affected by his death, including those who helped teach and care for him.” He added that Serco had made “significant improvements to suicide and selfharm awareness training and “remain absolutely committed to preventing all the young people in our care from coming to any sort of harm”.

A Youth Justice Board spokesman said: “The board deeply regrets his death and we would like to take this opportunity to once again express our condolences to Mrs Pounder and her family for their tragic loss.

“The board unequivocally accepts the verdict brought by the jury today. We welcome the coroner’s acknowledgment that the board’s systems in place today are clearly incomparably better than they were.”

Adam Rickwood’s statement to the authorities

"On the 8th August at aprox 6.50pm, I was sat at the table on the wing 2 Bravo. And my friend was messing about, so he was put in his cell for 30 minutes (time out). When my friend was in his cell he asked me to go over to his door. When I went over he slid a piece of paper under the door and asked me to give it to a female member of staff.

When I gave the paper to her she told me to get in my room. I asked why and she said ‘Just go in’ then at that point I refused because there were no explicit reason for this. Then she called for first response (assistance from other staff). When the other staff came they all jumped on me and started to put my arms up my back and hitting me in the nose. I then tried to bite one of the staff because they were really hurting my nose. My nose started bleeding and swelled up and it didn't stop bleeding for about one hour and afterwards it was really sore. When I calmed down I asked them why they hit me in the nose and jumped on me. They said it was because I wouldn’t go in my room so I said what gives them the right to hit a 14-year-old child in the nose and they said it was restraint."