An inquest begins today into how 14-year-old Adam Rickwood became the youngest child ever to die in custody. Adam was found hanging in his room at Hassockfield secure training centre in August 2004 hours after being restrained by a custody officer.
Campaigners want the inquest to scrutinise a controversial method of restraint used on Adam involving a “karate-chop” blow to the nose.
The Youth Justice Board sanctioned the technique, known as a “nose distraction” for use in all secure training centres, but it has been criticised by penal reformers.
Campaign group Inquest, which has backed Adam’s case, said they hoped the inquest would consider how the type of pain inflicted by the technique was originally approved and medically assessed.
They also want the inquest to look at staff training in the use of restraint and whether the use of force on Adam was appropriate at Hassockfield, which is run by private security firm Serco.
Adam, who had a known history of self-harm including cutting his wrists, was placed in Hassockfield 150 miles away from his family on remand after breaching bail.
The three-week inquest at Chester-le-street magistrates court is due to begin with hearing from Adam’s mother, and will include evidence from officers involved in the restraint, those responsible for the introduction of the restraint method and senior managers from the Youth Justice Board.
The inquest comes after an inquiry into the use of restraint on children in custody by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile last year. It was sparked by the death of Gareth Myatt, 15, after he was restrained by staff at Rainsbrook secure training centre.
The inquiry concluded that children in custody were treated in ways that would trigger child protection investigations and criminal charges in any other settings, but the Youth Justice Board rejected its key recommendations.
The inquest into Myatt’s deathbegan earlier this year and is due to reconvene in July.
Inquest, backed by children’s charities, peers and MPs, is calling for a public inquiry into all 29 deaths of children in penal custody that have occurred since 1990.
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