HASSOCKFIELD has been dogged by controversy since its inception.

The then director of the Howard League For Penal Reform warned before it had even opened that “there will almost certainly be tragedies inside”.

Those prophetic words from Frances Crook came in 1994 – a year after then Home Secretary Michael Howard had announced to the Conservative Party conference that five privately-run secure training centres were to be opened to deal with persistent juvenile criminals.

Hassockfield took over the 33-acre premises of Medomsley Detention Centre, a mile from Consett, in County Durham.

The centre, which would later become notorious when the crimes committed by paedophile priest Neville Husband in the Seventies eventually came to light, closed in 1988.

Residents fought a long, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to prevent Hassockfield opening.

The debate about opening the centre took so long that it was Jack Straw, Home Secretary under the new Labour Government, who eventually gave the go-ahead for Hassockfield to open.

The centre, run by Serco, admitted its first boys in September 1999 and girls three years later.

It was designed to hold 42 youngsters, aged between 12 and 17, some of them persistent offenders or youngsters convicted of the most serious crimes, but many of them on remand awaiting trial. Its early days were marked by problems – in its first six months there were more than 600 “reportable incidents”, an average of three per day.

Staff insisted the numbers were so high because every incident was logged, no matter how small, including swearing at staff.

By the time of Adam Rickwood’s death, in August 2004, the unit was full to capacity and there was a high turnover of troubled teenagers. Adam was one of 230 children to be admitted that year.

After early, well-publicised problems, Hassockfield made strides forward. Reports carried out after Adam’s death by the Commission for Social Care Inspection and Ofsted, found significant improvements in key areas.