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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Inmate sent mother suicide note
Adam Rickwood
Adam Rickwood was badly affected by his grandfather's death
A teenage boy who became the youngest inmate to die behind bars in the UK wrote a suicide letter to his mother before he died, an inquest has heard.

Adam Rickwood, 14, from Burnley in Lancashire, was said to have a history of self harm and threatening to commit suicide, the coroner's court was told.

Adam was found hanging in his room at the Hassockfield secure training centre in County Durham in August 2004.

In his last letter to his mother he said he would kill himself at the unit.

He described how he could not cope with life in the unit and how he wanted to be 150 miles back home.

After I learned how Adam had died I was shocked but then disgusted because I had warned staff that Adam was suicidal
Carol Pounder, Adam's mother

The letter, read to the jury, said: "I need to be at home with you. I need to be at home in my own bed or my head will crack up.

"I will probably try to kill myself and I will probably succeed this time. I can't stay in here."

The inquest opened at Chester-le-Street Magistrates Court, in County Durham, where the 11-strong jury were told they had to decide how the teenager died but not to apportion any blame.

'Fullest scrutiny'

Durham Coroner, Andrew Tweddle, said: "What happens behind prison walls is outside of the scrutiny of normal members of the public.

"If there is a death within those walls it is right and proper there needs to be the fullest scrutiny to ascertain what was going on there. Nobody is on trial here and we are not here to blame anyone.

"Adam was only 14 and as far as I know is the youngest person ever to die in some sort of penal institution."

The teenager's mother, Carol Pounder, of Burnley, told how her son had been a "fit and healthy young lad" but went off the rails when his grandfather died.

Sharon Rickwood (Adam's sister)
Adam's sister Sharon demonstrated outside the court

She added: "After I learned how Adam had died I was shocked but then disgusted because I had warned staff that Adam was suicidal. Staff said he was being watched constantly but I am accusing them of lying."

The inquest heard how Adam had been involved with social services for a number of years, right up until he was sent to the County Durham unit, but staff did not feel he was a suicide risk.

Gill Rigg, from Lancashire County Council, said: "Adam was a vulnerable young man who was very troubled and that manifested itself in a whole range of ways but I would have thought he was not at the most severe end of the scale."

She added that a previous suicide attempt, in 2002, had been seen more as a cry for help.

Secure accommodation

Home Office pathologist, Dr Mark Egan, said the cause of death was pressure to the neck due to hanging and told the jury: "There was nothing to suggest he was anything other than a willing participant."

The youngster's family and friends demonstrated outside the court with placards and banners ahead of the hearing.

His sister Sharon, 19, said: "We are here to hopefully see justice done and to make sure this does not happen again."

Secure training centres are privately-run children's prisons which are contracted and monitored by the Youth Justice Board on behalf of the Home Office to supply secure accommodation for children.

Hassockfield STC, which opened in September 1999, in Medomsley, County Durham, is run by Premier Training Services Ltd (SERCO).

The hearing is expected to last for three weeks.

Adam's mother, Carol Pounder, says she wants justice

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18 Aug 04 |  Lancashire
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