Death of boy, 14, reignites concern over suicides in custody

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The Independent Online

A 14-year-old boy was found hanged at a detention centre yesterday ­ the youngest ever prisoner to die in custody.

A 14-year-old boy was found hanged at a detention centre yesterday ­ the youngest ever prisoner to die in custody.

Adam Rickwood, who was on remand at the privately-run Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in Country Durham, was found in his room just after midnight. Staff tried to revive him but the teenager was later pronounced dead at University Hospital in Durham. He had never been in custody before and was due to have had a bail application heard yesterday.

His death has reignited concerns over the soaring rate of suicides among the most vulnerable prisoners in jail, such as women and children.

Adam is the first person to apparently commit suicide in a Secure Training Centre (STC), which were set up in 1998 as a new method of detaining youngsters. Last night, his grandmother, Margaret Rickwood, said: "He was a boy who thought he was a man."

Hassockfield, at Medomsley, near Consett, is one of just three STCs in the country, all of which are specially designed to look after vulnerable child criminals in secure conditions.

They are smaller than old-style young offenders institutions and have higher staff-to-inmate ratios in a bid to educate and rehabilitate children under 17.

Adam, from Burnley, Lancashire, had been in the centre for a month after being remanded by magistrates for breach of his bail conditions.

Mrs Rickwood said her grandson had shown signs of mental fragility in the weeks before his death and should have been put on suicide watch.

"He was on edge," she said, "he wasn't his normal self. Why put children so far from home? His mum made that 300-mile trip seven times in eight weeks. Something is very wrong."

Ellie Roy, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, said: "In accordance with our serious incidents procedure, an investigation will be launched immediately by the board, in co-operation with the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and the Commission for Social Care Inspection. I would like to offer my sincere sympathy to Adam's family. We will do everything we can to ensure the circumstances of his death are made known and that any lessons that need to be learnt will be."

A spokesman for Durham Police said: "There is nothing at this stage to suggest the death is suspicious."

Adam is the second teenager to die in an STC this year. In April, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died whilst being restrained by three members of staff at the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire.

Deborah Coles, co-director of the charity Inquest which campaigns over deaths in custody, said: "The death of a 14-year-old while in and custody of the state is shocking and highlights the dangerous consequences of locking up children. The Home Secretary can no longer resist the call for a public inquiry into the treatment of children by the criminal justice system. He must take action to address what is a serious and disturbing human rights issue ­ the death and suffering of children while in the custody of the state."

The Hassockfield centre opened in September 1999 and is operated by Medomsley Training Services Ltd, a subsidiary of Premier Custodial Group. It is run under contract from the Home Office and houses 40 boys and girls aged 12 to 17. A spokesman for Premier said: "This is a sad and regrettable incident. Our thoughts are with the young man's family."

Premier declared a profit of more than £2m in 2002. However, in 2001 it was condemned in a Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) report for failing to keep children held at Hassockfield under control.

The investigation found that spitting, swearing and other misbehaviour was common in the classroom. Premier was fined £74,572 for breaches of its contract, which pays it around £150,000 a year for each child, An SSI report last year said the way in which inmates were assessed for risk to themselves and others needed to be reviewed.

¿ An inquest heard yesterday that a 20-year-old female prisoner with a "prolific" history of self-harm strangled herself with a torn-up towel, just one day after warders reduced the frequency of her suicide watch.


2000 Phillip Griffin, 17, of Leeds, in Wetherby Young Offenders Institution (YOI)

2001 Anthony Redding, 16, of Coventry, at Brinsford YOI, near Wolverhampton

2001 Luke Cortezo-Malone, 19, at Brinsford

2001 Kevin Jacobs, 16, at Feltham YOI, London

2001 Colin Williamson, 18, of Reading, at Portland YOI in Dorset

2002 Joseph Scholes, 16, at Stoke Heath YOI

2002 Darren Bertelloti, 19, at Bowhouse prison, Kilmarnock

2003 Leanne Gidney, 18, from Rugby, at Brookhill prison, near Redditch

2003 Sarah Campbell, 18, at Styal jail