Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Fresh inquest into custody death

Adam Rickwood
Adam Rickwood had a history of mental health problems

A fresh inquest into the death of a Lancashire teenager found hanged at a secure unit in County Durham has been ordered by the High Court.

Adam Rickwood, 14, from Burnley - the youngest person to die in UK custody - was found at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, Consett, in 2004.

An inquest last year found he had deliberately taken his own life after being restrained.

Judge Mr Justice Blake said the force used on Adam was "unlawful".

He said: "A proper inquiry into factors that might have contributed to Adam's death and formed a material circumstance as to how he came by his death required consideration of whether the staff of the centre were operating in accordance with the law in the use of force on the children assigned to their care."

'Deeply troubled'

The judge sent the case back to Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle for a new inquiry before a fresh jury.

Adam's mother, Carol Pounder, of Greenock Close, Burnley, took the case to the High Court because the coroner had refused to rule on the legality of physical restraint methods used on her son, hours before his death.

The court heard Adam killed himself at the 40-bed secure unit just six hours after being forcibly restrained by four adult guards and subjected to the "nose distraction technique", in which pressure is applied to the nose with the deliberate intention of causing pain.

He was described as "a deeply troubled and deeply vulnerable child" who had a history of drug abuse, self-harming and suicide attempts.

He was on remand on charges of wounding and burglary when he died at Hassockfield, a private institution run by Serco Home Affairs under a contract with the Ministry of Justice.

'Offensive note'

Adam was regarded as a model trainee and had earned privileges for his good behaviour.

He had been at the centre for a month when, on 8 August 2004, he was ordered to his cell by a staff member after he refused to hand over an "offensive note" written by another inmate.

He refused to go, arguing he had done nothing wrong. It was during an ensuing struggle with officers that restraint was used.

The coroner decided it was unnecessary for him to rule on the legality of the restraint, and that the question was whether staff using the restraint honestly thought they had the power to do so.

Mr Justice Blake said that, "unsurprisingly", no-one had sought to argue during the High Court hearing that what happened to Adam was in accordance with the law on disciplinary regimes for children in custody.

He said the physical interference with Adam was also a breach of the rules and, strictly, an assault on him.

The use of the nose distraction technique was unjustified and disproportionate, he added.

Mr Justice Blake said: "There was no right to hurt such a child in these circumstances."

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