MPs will launch investigation into the scandal of young inmates

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The suicide of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood will be scrutinised by a parliamentary committee in an investigation into the number of juveniles locked up in Britain.

The suicide of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood will be scrutinised by a parliamentary committee in an investigation into the number of juveniles locked up in Britain.

As part of an inquiry into the use of detention by the state, MPs and peers are examining whether the incarceration of more than 2,600 people under the age of 18 can be justified.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights confirmed it would study yesterday's report in The Independent into the circumstances of the Lancashire schoolboy's death. Adam became the youngest person in British penal history to die in custody when he was discovered hanging in his cell at Hassockfield secure training centre, County Durham, on Monday.

The committee has already visited the young offenders institution (YOI) at Feltham, west London, which holds more than 650 boys and young adults aged between 15 and 21.

It will also consider whether there is a case for closing the three secure training units, in which vulnerable boys and girls aged under 17 receive education and help with rehabilitation. A committee spokeswoman said: "We have had lots of reports of young people taking their lives on remand. It is very much a feature of our investigation."

Adam's mother, Carol Pounder, 36, welcomed the inquiry. "It's so important to me and family to get to the bottom of all this," she said. She added that Adam may have hanged himself from a curtain pole in his single room, using laces from a pair of trainers that she had taken into prison for him less than 36 hours before his death.

The investigation into Adam's death will focus on an incident at the detention centre hours before his death which, Mrs Pounder has been told, resulted in him being restrained by means of a tweak to his nose or "nose distraction".

The incident followed arguments over notes that were being passed between detainees. Mrs Pounder claims that in a telephone call from the centre at 9.50pm last Sunday - nearly two hours before his death - she was told the "tweaking" incident had taken place, but informed that Adam did not want to speak to her.

Investigators must also establish what level of scrutiny Adam had been placed under. Mrs Pounder claims that in a meeting with her at the detention centre on 20 July, Adam had said: "If I don't get out of here soon I'm going to do it - I'm going to kill myself." He had a history of self-harm.

Mrs Pounder, from Burnley, added: "When I saw him on the Saturday afternoon for the last time, he was quiet. He was biting his nails which he never did. But we talked about the fact that he had a bail hearing on the Monday and he knew that the wounding charge laid against him had been dropped."

She said: "I want to know whether he was on constant suicide watch or on '15-minute' watch. The comments he made to me on 20 July made me very worried and nervous that he was going to hurt himself."

Adam's mood may also have been affected by the removal of his TV and hi-fi for a 48-hour period on the day before he died, as a punishment for smoking.

Meanwhile, an attempt will be made in the Commons next month to prevent any child aged under 16 being locked up, either in a YOI or a secure training centre. The move, by Labour's Hilton Dawson, will be made when MPs debate the Children's Bill, which will create England's first children's commissioner.

Mr Dawson, the MP for Lancaster and Wyre, said that the death toll of children in custody was "one of the great scandals of our society and one of the great failures of this Government". He added: "I have no faith in the Home Office or the Youth Justice Board to address the issue effectively." He hopes his amendment barring the detention of under-16s will be backed by many Labour MPs and the Liberal Democrats. It will also force a minister to the floor of the Commons to justify the Government's approach to the issue.

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Adam Rickwood's death is a black mark against the youth justice system and the latest in a series of tragedies. We appear to be moving towards a society in which we sweep children's mental health and behavioural problems under the carpet in the rush to punish them, and that has got to change.

"Children like Adam should be under the care of the local social services, not held in institutions which are prisons in all but name. The practice of holding vulnerable children in secure training centres has got to end."

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