Staff ‘Failed’ Suicide Teenager

Staff overseeing the welfare of the youngest person to die in custody in the UK had failed to protect the 14-year-old, even though they knew he was a suicide risk, an inquest will be told this week.

{mosimage}Adam Rickwood, who had emotional problems, hanged himself at the privately run Hassockfield Centre near Consett, Co Durham, while being held on a wounding charge. In a meeting with Adam’s mother, Carol, 20 days before her son died, staff allegedly assured her that he was safe in their care.

‘Adam had told me he was going to hurt himself if he was kept in the centre,’ Carol said. ‘But the staff told me there had never been a suicide at the centre and that he would be constantly monitored.’ Hassockfield is more than 150 miles from Adam’s family home in Lancashire. Guidelines suggest that young offenders should be held no more than 50 miles away from their family. ‘The last time I saw Adam he cried and cried and said he wanted to be nearer to home. He wasn’t an angel, but he was a mummy’s boy. He liked a cuddle,’ said Carol.

Hassockfield was Adam’s first taste of custody. He had a history of self-harm and had twice taken overdoses, once of ecstasy and once of sleeping pills. He had undergone a psychiatric examination and was diagnosed as suffering from severe emotional problems, in part exacerbated by the deaths of his two grandfathers and a grandmother. A note he left after his death asked that he be buried with one of his grandfathers and stated: ‘I can’t cope.’

Adam’s suicide came four months after the death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt at the Rainsbrook secure training centre in Northamptonshire and prompted calls for an investigation into the treatment of teenagers in young offenders’ institutes. There have been 29 deaths of children in penal custody in England and Wales since 1990.

Several hours before his death, Adam had been restrained by a custody officer using a ‘distraction’ technique which involved the use of force on his nose. The teenager thought his nose had been broken and was in a state of distress.

The campaign group Inquest, which monitors the deaths of those in custody, wants the inquiry to examine the use of restraint techniques in young offenders’ institutes. Crucial to the inquest will be the question of what action was taken to protect Adam, given his family’s concerns. Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, said: ‘I hope this inquest will shed some light on the dangerous consequences of imprisoning vulnerable children.’