THE mother of tragic teenager Adam Rickwood is pushing to see criminal charges charges brought against the secure unit where her son committed suicide.
Fourteen-year-old Adam, who had mental health issues, became the youngest person to die in custody when he hanged himself with a shoelace in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, County Durham, in 2004.
Mrs Carol Pounder now wants action taking against the centre after an inquest jury returned a damning verdict about “unlawful” restraint techniques used on the youngster hours before his death.
She said: “The inquest has really thrown it open. I have asked about corporate manslaughter because of all the failings the jury found. I think that would be hard to prove. But we are not ruling it out.”
She said she wanted staff who dealt with Adam in the run up to his death to face assault charges.
She added: “It would mean I would at least be able to let Adam rest and be able to grieve. Since the day he died I could not grieve.
“It is frightening to think how long it has taken to get some justice. I will never give up until the day I die.”
Adam, who went to Hargher Clough Primary School, was sent to Hassockfield after being accused of wounding another youth with a bottle on June 26th, 2004. A charge he denied. The teenager, who had previously had minor brushes with the law, allegedly breached his bail conditions while awaiting trial but as there were no local facilities he was sent to the centre in County Durham. Visiting hours were restricted to two one-hour sessions a week so Adam took every opportunity to phone home.
But, the day before his bail hearing, it was alleged Adam rang his solicitor claiming two guards had beaten him up and broke his nose. His mother rang the unit to speak to her son, but officers said there had been trouble and Adam had had to be restrained. Mrs Pounder demanded to speak to Adam, but was told he was too upset.
Hours later, on August 8th, 2004, Adam hanged himself from the curtain rail in his room with his shoelaces. He became the youngest person in over a century to die in custody in the UK.
At the time, Durham Constabulary launched an investigation, but decided Adam’s death was not suspicious.
In a letter home, Adam pleaded with his mum to get him out saying: “I can’t stay in here. I’m gunna crack up. I can’t last much longer. I will end up trying to kill myself and this time I will probably succeed.”
An inquest was held into Adam’s death in May, 2007, at Chester-le-Street Magistrates’ Court which heard how staff used a controversial “nose distraction” technique. “He was assaulted and was bloodied and bruised. What gives them the right to do that?” demanded Mrs Pounder.
She believed the technique had pushed him over the edge and branded the first inquest a whitewash.
After a series of high court battles to have the inquest heard again, Mrs Pounder got her wish and the case finally came before a jury again in January. They found there had been “systemic failures” in the regime at Hassockfield and the physical control in care and nose distraction techniques were in fact unlawful and contributed to Adam’s suicide
Mrs Pounder said: “Most people will not fight. If you don’t fight nothing changes. But I will never get final justice. The full truth will never get disclosed.”
There’s more on this story in today’s Express