Youth Justice Agencies Condemned for Unlawful Treatment of Vulnerable Boy in Custody

Friday 28 January 2011

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The jury at the second inquest into the death of 14 year old Adam Rickwood in Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham on 8 August 2004 today returned a damning narrative verdict criticising failings by Serco, the private company running Hassockfield, the Youth Justice Board, Prison Service restraint trainers and the Lancashire Youth Offending Team.

Following today's verdict, Adam Rickwood's mother Carol Pounder said:

Nothing can bring Adam back. I have waited over six years for truth and justice. All I have ever wanted is to find out the truth about what happened to my son and for those responsible for unlawful assaults to be held to account.

Acting for Carol Pounder, Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, said:

It has taken a six year legal battle, including a flawed first inquest and three judicial reviews (one of which went to the Court of Appeal), to finally expose the numerous failings and illegal treatment that Adam, and many other vulnerable children in privatised child prisons, have suffered.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

This is a vindication of the battle by Adam's family for the truth against a background of denial and secrecy by the Youth Justice Board and Serco. That thousands of vulnerable children were systematically subjected to unlawful restraint in privatised child prisons - and that none of the regulatory or inspection bodies of the state did anything about it - is shameful. The public scrutiny finally afforded by this properly-conducted inquest into Adam’s tragic death has highlighted serious failings in the way the state treats children in conflict with the law. The government must now respond and implement meaningful changes in order to safeguard lives in future.

At the hearing, it was agreed by all the Interested Parties to the inquest that at or about 6.00 pm on 8 August 2004:

1. The removal of Adam from Association was in breach of Schedule D, M6 of the contract between the Home Office and Serco, contrary to Rule 36 of the STC Rules and therefore unlawful;

2. The use of Physical Control in Care (PCC) on Adam to take him to his room was in breach of Schedule D, M5 of the contract between the Home Office and Serco, contrary to Rule 38 of the STC Rules, contrary to the Hassockfield Director’s Rules and therefore unlawful;

3. The use of the nose distraction on Adam was a pain inducing technique which was unjustified, unreasonable and disproportionate, contrary to Rule 37 of the STC Rules and therefore unlawful.

4. Before and at the time of Adam's death, PCC was regularly used at Hassockfield in circumstances not permitted by the contract between the Home Office and Serco, the STC Rules and the Director's Rules.

On that basis, the jury were asked 16 questions relating to the circumstances surrounding Adam's death, which they answered on the balance of probabilities (i.e. whether more likely than not) in their narrative verdict as follows:

1. Was Adam appropriately assessed when he arrived at Hassockfield? Yes

2. Should a replacement Key Worker have been allocated to Adam when Kevin Bell went off sick? Yes

3. Was the HRAT programme implemented appropriately to safe guard Adam between his arrival at Hassockfield and the 29th July? No

4. Was Adam's request for a transfer to an establishment closer to his family home appropriately dealt with by:

(a) Hassockfield: No

(b) Lancashire YOT: No

5. Was it appropriate to close the HRAT book in respect of Adam on 29th July? No

6. Should the Care Officers involved in Adam's care have been aware of the entry in the HRAT book on 12th July to the effect that he had previously self harmed when angry? Yes

7. Should the HRAT book have been re-opened on

(a) 7th August, following the removal of privileges due to him being found in possession of cigarettes and matches: No

(b) 8th August, following the use of PCC and the nose distraction technique to take Adam to his room: Yes

8. Should the Care Officers on night duty on 8th August on House Block 2 have known about the use of PCC and the nose distraction technique on Adam? Yes

9. Was Adam observed every 15 minutes (as required by the rules) after lockdown on 8th August? No

10. At the time of Adam's stay at Hassockfield were the staff adequately trained in:-

(a) HRAT: No

(b) suicide awareness: No

(c) behaviour management/de-escalation: No

11. Before and at the time of Adam's death, were the PCC Instructors at Hassockfield adequately trained in the use of PCC by the Prison Service? No

12. Did the Care Officers employed by SERCO who used PCC on Adam, in order to gain compliance with an instruction, genuinely believe it was lawful for them to do so? Yes

13. Before and at the time of Adam's death, was there a serious system failure in relation to the use of PCC at Hassockfield, giving rise to an unlawful regime? Yes

14. Before and at the time of Adam's death, should the YJB (through their Monitors) have been aware that PCC was being used unlawfully and in breach of the Contract at Hassockfield? Yes

15. Was there a serious system failure on the part of the YJB in failing to prevent the regular and unlawful use of PCC at Hassockfield? Yes

16. Did any of the following matters more than minimally contribute to Adam taking his own life:-

(a) being in a S.T.C. which was approximately 150 miles away from his home: Yes

(b) his loss of privileges following the finding of the cigarettes and matches on 7th August: No

(c) the news which he received during the evening of 8th August to the effect that there was to be no bail application on the following day: Yes

(d) the unlawful use of PCC on him on 8th August: Yes

(e) the unlawful use of the nose distraction technique on him on 8th August: Yes

(f) his intrinsic vulnerability: Yes

The family was represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Rajiv Menon from Garden Court Chambers instructed by Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy solicitors. For further information, click here.

Deborah Coles, Co-director, INQUEST
Office 020 7263 1111
Mobile 07714 857 236

Mark Scott, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors
Office 020 7729 1115

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