UNLAWFUL restraining of “vulnerable children” was rife at a County Durham institution where a young boy killed himself, an inquest heard yesterday.
Despite staff at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre near Consett being told it was against Government regulations to forcibly restrain an inmate – or trainee, in official jargon – for simply refusing to comply with an order, the hearing was told the practice was commonplace.
In just 12 months before Adam Rickwood, 14, was found hanged in his room in August 2004 – just hours after he had been left bleeding and face down on the floor by four male staff – force had been used 912 times on inmates.
Questioning witness Jon Collier, a prison service instructor who trained staff at Hassockfield, coroner Jeremy Freedman asked: “You must have been abundantly clear that restraint was not being used according to the rules?”
Mr Collier agreed that the use of restraint was “a lot higher than at other establishments”.
During the same 12-month period the now unlawful Nose Distraction Technique (NDT) – used to subdue violent inmates – was used 148 times at Hassockfield, a figure the coroner described as “very high.”
Although Mr Collier said the technique in which he trained instructors – which involves holding a youngster down and applying pressure to the nose – should not cause bleeding, Hassockfield records showed 37 instances of nose bleeding following the use of NDT.
When Mr Collier said some instances may not have been from the use of NDT, but from trainees being involved in fights, the coroner accused him of being “disingenuous”.
Earlier in the hearing care officer Steve Hodgson said he twice warned Adam he would use the nose distraction technique.
Mr Hodgson, who now works as a firefighter, was arrested on suspicion of assault in 2005, but was not charged.
The court heard Adam was left face down on the floor bleeding by four members of staff, who had used the physical control in care technique, lifting the eight-stone boy by the arms and legs and holding his head.
Giving evidence at the inquest in Easington, Mr Hodgson said he gave a “short, sharp burst to the nose” with two fingers under the nostrils as the teenager thrashed about.
He said Adam had been refusing to comply with an order to go to his room following a dispute with a female staff member.
The hearing continues.