YOUNGEST CHILD DEATH IN CUSTODY – end imprisonment of children urges report

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The United Families and Friends Campaign marching to Downing Street last October to protest over deaths in police and prison custody, including Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt
The United Families and Friends Campaign marching to Downing Street last October to protest over deaths in police and prison custody, including Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt

AN end to the imprisonment of under-16 year olds ‘in all but the most exceptional circumstances’ was demanded yesterday, in an official report on the death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood.

The report also demanded a national review of the use of restraint, adding: ‘Issues around the use of all “pain distraction’’ techniques used on children should be reviewed as a matter of urgency.’

Adam Rickwood was the youngest person to die in custody in Britain in the last 25 years.

He was found hanging in his room at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre (STC) on August 9, 2004, barely a month after being placed on remand in the child prison in County Durham, operated by private company Serco.

On April 19 of the same year, 4ft 10ins Gareth Myatt, who weighed just six-and-a-half stones, died after being restrained by three officers using a ‘Seated Double Embrace’ at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.

The Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) yesterday published the findings of the Serious Case Review panel, set up to investigate the circumstances of Adam Rickwood’s death.

The Board said: ‘Although at the time of Adam’s death STC rules only allowed young people to be restrained in very limited circumstances, just hours before his death Adam had been physically restrained by staff at the Hassockfield STC using a so-called “nose distraction technique’’.

‘At the inquest into Adam’s death, which was held earlier this year, conflicting evidence was heard in respect to the circumstances in which restraint can be used and its legality.’

The report voiced the Board’s ‘concerns’ that the ‘whole youth justice system’ viewed Adam as a child in need of custody, ‘rather than a vulnerable child also in need of care and safeguarding.’

In summary, the LSCB said that ‘detaining a child under the age of 16 years within a custodial setting is unacceptable in all but the most exceptional circumstances.’

Yesterday’s report follows warnings by campaign group INQUEST that the circumstances in which force can be used are being widened.

In December 2006, Lady Scotland told the House of Lords that between November 2005 and October 2006 physical restraint was used 642 times at Hassockfield.

INQUEST says it is ‘deeply concerned about the appropriateness and legality of the force used against Adam which included the nose distraction technique designed to inflict pain.’

Adam said in a written statement hours before his death that his nose bled ‘for about one hour’.

Following the inquest into his death, Adam’s mother Carole said: ‘I am disgusted by what I have heard.

‘Not once has anyone contacted me or my family to apologise about my son’s death. My question is how many more children have been treated like this today?’