Mother warned authorities of sons suicide risk
provided by: Mikey Powell Campaign
published: 20th September 2004
Updates listed at the foot of this item
The mother of a teenager who died after a month on remand in secure unit alerted staff when he became distant and edgy. The family of the youngest child to die in custody in recent history had thought that he had been on suicide watch. Adam’s Grandmother said that she was present when her daughter had told staff at the centre that Adam was suicidal, and they believed he was being put on suicide watch. 14 year old Adam Rickwood, was found hanged in a privately-run secure training centre in the early hours of 9th August 2004.
He had been on remand for a month, and was to apply for bail that day. It is said that staff attempted to revive Adam when he was discovered. “Obviously it was too late. All we get now is a little mangled body,” said his grandmother, Margaret Rickwood, from Burnley in Lancashire.
She went on to say that her grandson had previously taken an overdose, and on another occasion might have slashed his wrists. She alleged that his mother, Carol Pounder, had told staff at the Hassockfield secure training centre that he should be on suicide watch, and had alerted them to his “distant” mood on a visit five days before his death.
Liz Rickwood described Adam as a “boisterous” boy, but not bad, and it was his first time in custody. She said he had threatened to kill himself a few days beforehand, and was finding it difficult being so far from his family and home, in Burnley. “They’re babies and they shouldn’t be locked up in places like that, they’re children who need help, not locking up away from their families.” she said.
England has three secure training centre’s housing 188 children aged as young as 12. They are intended to provide supportive, secure custody for vulnerable young offenders, and are smaller than young offender institutions and have a higher staff to inmate ratio.
The Youth Justice Board (YJB) announced an inquiry into Adam’s death, in addition to the police investigation. The YJB would not comment on whether he had been on suicide watch.
The firm that runs the centre, a subsidiary of Premier Custodial Group, said it would also hold an inquiry.
Campaigners have said the death indicated a deeper problem in the treatment of 2,800 children in the criminal justice system. In April 2004, 15 year old Gareth Myatt, died in a restraint-related incident at another centre, Rainsbrook, in Northamptonshire. The last known suicide of a child under 16 in custody took place in 1991, but more than 150 inmates aged under 21 have killed themselves in the past 10 years.
“Rather than trying, and failing, to create child-friendly imprisonment, the government must act now to develop effective, humane services outside the prison system that will enable vulnerable children who offend to make a go of their lives,” said Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust.
Enver Solomon, senior policy officer for the trust also said “children in custody should be held with no more than 20 others and preferably in local authority secure units, where staff tend to be more experienced and where the focus is on children’s welfare.”
Deborah Coles of Inquest demanded a full inquiry into the treatment of children in the criminal justice system. “It is shocking and desperately sad that a 14-year-old can die in these circumstances. But we now have a real opportunity for a fundamental rethink about the way we deal with some of the most troubled children.”
Mrs Rickwood described her grandson as “a little boy trying to live in a big man’s world”. She said: “There’s other little boys and girls still in there. It’s horrendous. They’re only babies.”
Adam had seemed to cope well at first and “was looking fantastic” in his first weeks at Hassockfield. The family was so close that relatives made the 300-mile round trip twice a week. When last seen by his family he seemed withdrawn. “We were only allowed an hour with him, and 10 or 15 minutes before we were due to go he asked if we would leave so he could go to the gymnasium. He was edgy.”
Adam had been remanded after allegedly breaching bail conditions over a wounding charge, which Mrs Rickwood called an accident. “He had been in little bits of petty [trouble], but this was the first time he was ever away.” He had breached bail conditions by “removing his tag as a prank.”
Mrs Rickwood and Adam’s Mother, Mrs Pounder, had struggled to get proper help for Adam when they had first noticed his depressive and attention-seeking behaviour. He was eventually assigned to a social worker and psychiatrist.
New inquest ordered into teenage boy’s death in custody
22 January 2009
Report into death of boy, 14, calls for reform of youth custody
3 September 2007
‘I still don’t know why my son died
9 August 2006
‘Child jails’ put under spotlight
11 August 2004