Fight for inquiry into offender’s death goes on despite court setback

Charities have vowed to continue their campaign to force the Home Office to hold a public inquiry into the death of a 16-year-old boy in a young offender institution, despite suffering a major Joseph Scholessetback.

A High Court judge this week backed the Home Office’s insistence that a public inquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of Joseph Scholes, who committed suicide in March 2002 nine days after being sentenced to two years for robbery, was unnecessary.

Campaigners say Scholes, who had a history of self-harm, was detained in Stoke Heath Young Offender Institution, in Shropshire, even though all the professionals involved in his case recommended that he should be sent to a secure children’s home.

Deborah Coles, the co-director of Inquest, which is leading the campaign for an inquiry, said it would now make a direct application to the Court of Appeal.

But Mr Justice Bennett refused Joseph’s mother Yvonne Scholes, who brought the case, permission to challenge the decision in the Court of Appeal.

Coles said the Home Office persisted in seeing the deaths of children in custody – 27 since 1990 – as isolated incidents.

An inquiry into the sentencing allocation process was vital to safeguard the lives of children, she said, adding that the government was “frightened about what a public inquiry might reveal about the way we treat children in this country”.

The Prison Reform Trust, Nacro and The Children’s Society said an opportunity had been missed to expose custodial conditions for children and young people and help prevent future deaths.

Mr Justice Bennett accepted the Home Office’s argument that a public inquiry would be “too slow” and “unmanageable”, despite conceding that there was a “very great concern” over young offenders being placed in YOIs rather than secure children’s homes.

He rejected the argument of Scholes, who argued that the inquest process did not represent a full investigation into the death of her son Joseph and therefore breached article two of the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines a right to life. 

The fact that she did not approve of the Home Office’s decision to refuse an inquiry was “irrelevant”, he said.

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