The charity Inquest has called for an independent review of the care of young prisoners after a jury found that failures in support contributed to the death of a looked-after 17-year-old at HMYOI Wetherby.
The jury at the inquest into the death of Ryan Clark, who was found hanging in his cell on 18 April 2011, concluded that his actions were more a ‘cry for help’ than an attempt to take his own life and ruled that his death was accidental.
The jury noted that Clark, who was subjected to repeated verbal abuse and physical threats by other inmates while the prison, did not receive all the support he could have and that Wetherby’s system for challenging the bullying he experienced was ineffective.
During the hearings the jury was told by Jane Held, the independent chair of Leeds Safeguarding Children Board, that the system failed Clark, who had been in care since he was 16 months old.
She said that during the final year of his life, Clark had no single consistent professional who was responsible for him and that his care plan was insufficient.
Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, said: “The jury’s conclusion is a serious indictment of a system that fails time and again to protect children in its care. It is clear that basic safeguards that should have been implemented to protect Ryan, a vulnerable 17-year-old, were either absent, ineffectual or simply ignored.
“Deaths of children and young people do not just raise criminal justice issues but important issues outside the prison walls such as the role of social services, support for looked-after children and questions as to why a vulnerable child was imprisoned in the first place.
“There have been a pattern of deaths of children and young people with worryingly familiar themes which is why we are calling for an independent, wide-ranging and holistic review into the deaths of children and young people in prison.”
Ruth Bundey, the solicitor for Clark’s family, said: “It is welcome that the jury has recognised the very serious failings in the lead up to Ryan’s death. However it is also clear that he was failed by those who were supposed to protect his welfare for a long time before that.
“Over 50% of the children held in Wetherby Young Offender Institution are looked-after children. Ryan’s death has raised serious questions about the protections afforded by the state to very vulnerable young people.”
Lin Hinnigan, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, said: “Every death of a child in custody is a tragedy and the Youth Justice Board takes our responsibility for children in custody very seriously.
“We have noted the jury’s findings and will give careful consideration to the issues identified by the inquest and what action they require us to take to make improvements.”