The mother of Adam Rickwood has won the right to a second inquest into the death of her 14-year-old son, who was found hanging in juvenile custody hours after being physically restrained.
A judicial review brought by Carol Pounder succeeded in quashing the suicide verdict of the original inquest in 2007.
Justice Nicholas Blake ruled that the first inquest had failed to consider whether staff at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, County Durham, were legally authorised to use force against a disobedient teenager.
The judge upheld Pounder’s submission that the restraint was “degrading” and “unlawful”, and amounted to an assault.
Four male officers at the centre carried Adam to his cell in August 2004 after he refused to go of his own accord, and applied a painful “nose distraction technique” – a blow to the septum – causing the teenager’s nose to bleed and swell up.
Adam left a note on the night of his death, asking: “What gives them the right to hit a 14-year-old child in the nose and draw blood?”
After a hearing in London in December, the High Court found that the inquest at Chester-le-Street Magistrates’ Court only considered whether the interventions by staff were “appropriate”, rather than lawful.
Had Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle directed the jury to consider Adam’s question, Blake said: “The answers would have been clear.”
He added: “There was no right to hurt such a child in these circumstances. In my judgment it is fanciful to suppose that such an answer could have had no impact on the jury’s consideration of factors contributing to the death.”
Blake cited the STC rules governing the use of restraint which, at the time of Adam’s death, specified that it could only be used to prevent a trainee escaping, injuring himself or others, damaging property or inciting another trainee to do the same – not to force compliance with a staff order.
In 2007, following the first inquest, the government controversially amended the rules to permit restraint to be used to ensure “good order and discipline” in an STC.
However, last year, the Court of Appeal quashed the change to the rules.
Ministers ordered an independent review into the use of restraint in the secure juvenile estate following the inquests into the deaths of Adam and Gareth Myatt in 2007. Gareth, 15, died of asphyxia in 2004 while being restrained using the now banned double-seated embrace, at Rainsbrook STC, Northamptonshire.
The restraint review recommended the banning of the now-suspended nose distraction technique used on Adam, which the government accepted.
Ministers also accepted another recommendation for legislation to ensure that restraint is only used to prevent harm.