THE jury in the Adam Rickwood inquest has returned a damning verdict into the level of care at the secure centre where he became the youngest person to die in British custody.
The troubled 14-year-old Burnley boy was found hanged in his room at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham in August, 2004.
A jury of four men and five women at the second inquest into Adam’s death has now 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.
The decision marks the end of a six-year fight by Adam’s mother Carol Pounder to seek justice for her son.
Speaking after the verdict, the tearful mum 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.”
A catalogue of “systematic failures from an unlawful regime” was revealed during the two-week hearing.
The 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.
The jury also decided that the decision to place Adam in a secure unit 150 miles from his home in Burnley had “more than a minimal” contribution on his decision to take his own life.
The decision overturned a verdict by a previous inquest jury, which did not hear details of the violence and ruled simply that Adam took his own life.
Deborah Coles, co-director of pressure group INQUEST, said after the verdict: “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.
“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.”