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Guards treated Adam Rickwood illegally, says coroner

A 14-YEAR-OLD boy who was the youngest person to die in a Durham prison was treated unlawfully by prison guards just hours before he hanged himself, an inquest heard.

Adam Rickwood
Adam Rickwood

A 14-YEAR-OLD boy who was the youngest person to die in a Durham prison was treated unlawfully by prison guards just hours before he hanged himself, an inquest heard.

Adam Rickwood’s mother, Carol Pounder, told jurors that she would be “locked up” if she had treated her son the way authorities did in the hours before his death.

Assistant Deputy Coroner Jeremy Freedman, who is leading the second inquest into his death, told the court how previous jurors were not informed that prison staff who used unorthodox methods to physically restrain Adam were acting “unlawfully and illegally” on the evening of August 9, 2004.

The 14-year-old, from Burnley, was found hanged by shoelaces in his cell by staff at Hassockfield secure training centre, in County Durham, whilst on remand for an alleged wounding charge.

Hours before his death, at 6pm, he was involved in an altercation with staff who ordered him to return to his cell from the social area he was in.

The order came after a note was passed to him by another inmate which contained “unflattering remarks” about a female member of staff.

When Adam refused to go back to his cell and instead sat on the floor in the communal area, back-up was called and he was physically removed.

Four officers restrained him – two holding his arms, one holding his head and one holding his legs.

Adam was placed in his cell face down and, because the officer holding his head feared that Adam was trying to bite his fingers, he employed a “nose distraction method” to control Adam’s behaviour – a painful manoeuvre which left Adam’s nose swollen and bruised.

Mr Freedman said yesterday that previous jurors had not been told “three important things.”

He said: “When they removed Adam from the free association area, in these circumstances, it was unlawful and illegal.

“Second, they weren’t told that the use of Physical Control in Care in taking him into his cell in these circumstances was, too, unlawful.

“And thirdly, they weren’t told that the use of the nose distraction technique was in any circumstances unlawful and illegal.”

His mother said in a statement read out by Mr Freedman that Adam had started to show behavioural problems after the deaths of three grandparents and his 17-year-old cousin in the space of two years when he was around nine.

Mrs Pounder also spoke of her son’s distress at being sent 150 miles from home to the detention centre near Consett, and described him as being desperately unhappy at Hassockfield.

She said: “He said he needed to be home with me and that he couldn’t cope. I had to shout at Adam to get him to calm down as he got too upset.”

A serious case review was opened by social services after Adam’s death.

The inquest, which is due to last four weeks, continues.

 

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