Burnley 14-year-old’s hanging death raised in High Court battle

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THE death in custody of Burnley teenager Adam Rickwood has been cited in a High Court battle over the rights of children to take legal action in restraint cases.

A children’s rights organisation has won the first round in the battle to force the Government to inform “potentially thousands” of youngsters who were restrained in custody they may have a right to take legal action.

Adam was the youngest person to die in British custody when he hanged himself aged 14 at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, County Durham, in 2004 after a controversial restraint technique was used on him.

Two inquests were heard into Adam’s death, the second in January this year found unlawful use of force contributed to Adam’s decision to take his own life.

The “nose distraction” technique was used on Adam by a warder resulting in a bleeding nose for the youngster.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England has now been given the go-ahead to challenge the Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke, for refusing to notify children restrained in privately-run Secure Training Centres their rights may have been infringed.

Details of restraint methods in such centres emerged during inquests into the death of Adam and 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, of Stoke-on-Trent, who also died in custody.

CRAE now wants the Youth Justice Board to review its records and notify any child disciplined using “unlawful” methods they should seek legal advice.

Granting permission for a Judicial Review of the case, Mr Justice Collins said it was “arguable” the Youth Justice Board, acting on the Secretary of State’s behalf, has an obligation to inform potential victims of their rights.

Richard Hermer QC said, during a 10-year period, methods such as nose distraction were sometimes used at four STCs to maintain “good order and discipline” when they could legally only be used in circumstances where life was threatened.

He added: “Restraint was being regularly and systematically used in any situation where it was the subjective view of an officer it was required for order and discipline.”

Mr Hermer said that, until the first inquest into Adam’s death, in May 2007, the fact distraction techniques were being used had “not come into the public sphere”.

It emerged there were 26 incidents of children being injured while being restrained at Hassockfield in the year before Adam’s death.

James Strachan, for the Secretary of State, had argued there were legal advisors and systems in place within the youth justice system to help children subject to any unlawful restraint.

No date was given for the full hearing of the Judicial Review challenge which is expected to last two days, but Mr Justice Collins said it will be heard before Christmas.