The government has been strongly criticised for its “shoddy” response to coroners’ recommendations in the cases of two boys who died in custody.
The Ministry of Justice, Youth Justice Board and Department for Children, Schools and Families last week jointly published an action plan in response to last year’s inquests into the deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood in secure training centres in 2004.
Gareth, 15, died of asphyxia after being restrained by staff at Rainsbrook STC, while Adam, 14, committed suicide hours after being restrained at Hassockfield STC, becoming the youngest person to die in modern UK penal history.
The coroners in both inquests used their discretionary powers to make recommendations to agencies over issues arising from the two deaths, including more staff training in restraint, inter-agency information-sharing and the handling of complaints by young offenders.
In its response, the government outlined measures including a review of safeguarding in custody being undertaken by the YJB and the National Children’s Bureau.
It also said a periodic review of the YJB would take place this year, in response to the Myatt coroner’s call for a “immediate and thorough” review of the MoJ’s monitoring of the board.
It also said it was considering the recommendations of a review of the independent Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody which called for increased funding. The forum’s annual report last September said it lacked resources to research or monitor any recommendations that arose from investigations, inspections and inquests.
Deborah Coles, co-director of campaign organisation Inquest, which supported the families of Gareth and Adam, accused the government of “procrastinating” over making any substantial changes as a result of the deaths. “There is a lack of detail, and little suggestion of any root and branch reform despite endemic problems in the system,” she said. Coles added that the MoJ had failed to supply the families with advance copies of the plan, leaving them no time to issue an immediate response.