Hassockfield staff 'unaware' of boy's self-harming

FOUR staff who physically restrained a teenage boy and struck him on the nose were unaware of his tendency to self-harm when angry, an inquest heard yesterday.

FOUR staff who physically restrained a teenage boy and struck him on the nose were unaware of his tendency to self-harm when angry, an inquest heard yesterday.

Although copious notes on the mental state of Adam Rickwood, 14, were available at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, Consett, County Durham, detailing his suicidal tendencies and habit of self-harming, these were not read by staff entrusted with his care.

And psychiatrist Dr Hilary Grant told an inquest into the death of Adam, the youngest person to die in custody in recent times, that he might have taken his own life because he was physically restrained and painfully struck on the nose six hours before he hanged himself.

Adam, of Burnley, Lancashire, was found hanging in his cell in August 2004.

On the day he died, Adam had rowed with “inexperienced” staff member Claire Murray in the association area and was lifted by four care officers and placed face-down in his room.

On the way, care officer Steve Hodgson had used the controversial Nose Distraction Technique – a sharp painful blow – to stop the boy from trying to bite him, the inquest heard.

Adam’s nose bled afterwards and he was left alone in his room to calm down.

The detainee spoke to members of staff and he did not seem too despondent afterwards, but six hours later he was found dead in his room.

Dr Grant was asked to consider whether a range of factors potentially contributed to him choosing to take his own life and she said Adam had written a note after being restrained which revealed his feelings.

“He seemed to be disturbed by it,” she told the inquest.

“He felt it was disproportionate. I would conclude it was a more than minimally contributing factor.”

She felt the use of nose distraction fell into the same category. The inquest was told Adam was admitted to Hassockfield, 150 miles from his home on remand, the month before he died.

Senior staff were made aware by professionals in Lancashire and by his mother Carol Pounder that he had expressed suicidal tendencies and was a self-harmer, especially when angry.

But this information was not passed on to the staff who physically restrained him, a practice they should have not in any case adopted for simple disobedience, the hearing was told.

There was also confusion over how often Adam was checked on by staff the night he died.

At a previous hearing in 2007, night shift duty officer Paul Welburn said he had not been checked between 9.30pm and 11pm, although he should have been looked at every 15 minutes.

But at this inquest Mr Welburn said he now recalled he had checked on Adam every 15 minutes.

Assistant deputy coroner Jeremy Freedman began summing up the evidence for the jury who will be asked to consider 16 questions.

He told the panel that nine would relate to events in the run-up to Adam’s death, three would be about staff training, two about the involvement of the Youth Justice Board, one about the Hassockfield regime and finally to consider the factors that might have contributed “more than minimally” to his death.


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