Adam Rickwood inquest hears of ‘unlawful’ restraint

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A SECOND inquest has heard that 14-year-old Burnley boy Adam Rickwood, the youngest person to die in a British prison in modern times, was treated unlawfully by guards before he hanged himself.

His mother Carol Pounder has told jurors she would be locked up if she had treated him the way he had been handled at privately-run Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, in County Durham.

Assistant Deputy Coroner Jeremy Freedman, who is leading the second inquest into Adam’s death, said jurors at the first inquest in 2007 were not told staff acted “unlawfully and illegally” when they restrained him in August 2004.

Hours before his body was found hanging, Adam refused to return to his cell and four officers removed him – two holding his arms, one his head and one his legs.

He was placed face down in his cell face down and the officer holding his head gave him a sharp blow to the nose - known as a “distraction method” - as he feared Adam was trying to bite his fingers, leaving the teenager’s nose swollen and bruised.

The High Court ruled a second inquest was needed as previous jurors were not told “three important things” which were unlawful - the removal of Adam from the free association area, in these circumstances; the use of physical control and the use of the nose distraction technique.

Mr Freedman added the inquest would be a wide inquiry into the way young people in custody are restrained. “You will hear about matters which do not impact immediately on the circumstances of Adam’s death, but because of the context of this death and the issues it has raised, it is necessary for there to be a more extensive inquiry than would otherwise be the case,” he said.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Mrs Pounder said: “The assault Adam was subjected to in Hassockfield – if I’d have done that I would have been arrested and locked up. I know my son was no angel, he had his problems.”

Hours after the assault, between 11-45 p.m. and just after midnight, Adam, who was on remand on a wounding charge, was found hanged in his cell. Mrs Pounder said her son developed behavioural problems after the deaths of three grandparents and his 17-year-old cousin when he was aged about nine.

She told how he was finding it difficult to sleep and was breaking his own things and punching walls in anger. His behaviour deteriorated after he fell in with a bad crowd and started drinking, taking ecstasy and smoking cannabis, leading to run-ins with police and him being given an electronic tag and supervision order.

Mrs Pounder told of her son’s distress at being sent to Hassockfield, 150 miles from home. “He rang me every day when he was in there and he always ended up crying,” she said. “He said he needed to be home with me and couldn’t cope. He said when there was a disturbance, staff were videoed, but they were never videoed when they were giving the lads a hiding.”

In July Adam has asked to be transferred to a centre nearer home, but it was not processed in time.

Issues were also raised at the inquest about correct information about Adam’s admissions to hospital seven times between 2001 and 2003 after self-harm and suicide attempts not being passed on to staff at Hassockfield.

The hearing, due to last four weeks, continues.