Trial hears of a legacy of physical and sexual abuse of inmates at detention centre where Burnley teenager took his own life

Five officers who worked at a detention centre where a Burnley teenage boy took his own life have been convicted of historic physical abuse.

Monday, 1st April 2019, 1:38 pm
Updated Monday, 1st April 2019, 2:43 pm
Adam Rickwood
Adam Rickwood

Fourteen-year-old Adam Rickwood became the youngest UK prisoner to commit suicide when he hanged himself in Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in 2004.

Hassockfield in County Durham had re-opened in 1999. It had previously been known as Medomsley Detention Centre until 1988.

Although the latest charges relate to the time when the officers were working at Medomsley, before Adam was there, the allegations of physical abuse mirror those that an inquest found that Adam also suffered at the hands of guards years later.

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The latest trials, which opened last September, heard from 71 complainants who told a jury harsh physical punishments were done purely for the enjoyment of the officers and as a means of degrading and humiliating the young boys in their charge.

Officer A (74) was convicted of misconduct in public office and assault causing actual bodily harm. Officer B (71) was convicted of misconduct in public office.

Officer Neil Sowerby (62) was cleared of misconduct in public office, sexual charges and assault.

In the final trial Officers C and D, both aged 70, were both convicted of misconduct in public office but cleared of assaults causing actual bodily harm.

David McClure (63) was cleared of assault and misconduct. All five of the convicted former officers will be sentenced together at a later date.

More than 1,600 victims have now contacted police to say they were abused at Medomsley, and the Durham Constabulary investigation into what went on there is now thought to be the biggest historic child abuse probe the country has ever seen.

An inquest into Adam's death, held in Burnley in 2011, returned a damning verdict into the level of care at the secure centre. An initial inquest in 2007 was branded a "whitewash" by Adam's mum Carol Pounder after it absolved the staff of blame in Adam's death.

The second inquest heard how a controverisal 'nose-distraction technique' was used on Adam causing his nose to bleed, hours before he took his own life.

Although the practice was recorded more than 900 times in just one year leading up to Adam’s death, Youth Training Board monitors present at Hassockfield failed to report it. And members of staff – many of whom had received no more than a basic nine-week training – were not told that Adam, an “intrinsically troubled and vulnerable” child – had suicidal tendencies and a prediliction for self harm when angry.

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.

A jury of four men and five women at the second inquest ruled that unlawful use of force by four members of staff at the centre contributed to the decision by Adam to take his own life.

The jury returned a 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.

Speaking after the inquest in 2011, the second to be held into Adam's death, his 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.

“I would have been prosecuted if I had manhandled my child the way those staff manhandled him.”

After one of the biggest investigations of its type, it has been admitted that hundreds of young teenagers were sexually abused at a former youth detention centre at Medomsley.

One officer who worked there, Neville Husband, who was jailed for the abuse of five teenagers at the unit, is now thought to have abused many hundreds of young men. The Ministry of Justice has already paid out £3.6m. to 237 victims.