Unlawful force contributed to Adam Rickwood’s death, inquest finds

By Gemma Spence

The jury in the second inquest into the death of young offender Adam Rickwood has ruled that an unlawful use of force by professionals contributed to his death.

Fourteen-year-old Rickwood was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in 2004, hours after being subjected to the controversial “nose distraction” restraint technique by prison staff. He is the youngest child to die in penal custody.

The jury concluded that there was a serious system failure on the part of the Youth Justice Board in failing to prevent the regular and unlawful use of physical control in care (PCC) at Hassockfield.

It also found that at the time of Rickwood’s stay staff at the Serco-run centre were not adequately trained in suicide awareness, behaviour management and high-risk assessment, and that PCC instructors at Hassockfield were not adequately trained by the prison service in the use of PCC.

Lancashire youth offending team also came in for criticism along with Hassockfield for not appropriately dealing with Rickwood’s request for a transfer closer to his family home, a factor the jury decided contributed to Rickwood’s decision to take his own life.

Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook said the use of force on children is endemic in prisons and the privately run secure training centres.

“What is happening inside children’s prisons that requires thousands of children to be physically restrained by adult prison officers? We have to ask whether institutions should be perpetuating the cycle of abuse that these children have so often grown up in.”

She added: “School teachers are at pains to avoid touching pupils and yet the government permits private companies to inflict pain on child prisoners, some of the most vulnerable children in society.”

Maggie Atkinson, children’s commissioner for England, said she hoped the ruling would pave the way for the “abolition of the unacceptable deliberate use of pain to control children in secure juvenile settings”.

“We recognise that members of staff in the secure estate can work with some of the country’s most troubled children. But physical force should only ever be used as a measure of last resort,” she added.

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