Public Inquiry call goes to the High Court
originally by: Mikey Powell Campaign
published: 30th September 2004
Updates on this case are listed at the foot of this item
David Blunkett sparked fury by rejecting a coroner’s advice and refusing a public inquiry into the suicide of 16 year old Joseph Scholes at a young offenders’ institution. Joseph was found hanging from a bed sheet tied to his cell window at Stoke Heath young offenders’ institution, near Market Drayton, Shropshire, in March 2002.
It is thought that Joseph may have hanged himself because he may have hoped to be found in a desperate attempt to get a transfer to a secure unit.
The family’s anger was further stoked when it was revealed that the Home Office failed to inform Joseph’s Mother, Yvonne, that it was making the announcement to parliament. She only found out about the move after being contacted by journalists. Yvonne, whose son was found hanged just nine days into a two-year sentence, said she was “disgusted” by the Home Secretary’s decision.
She was equally upset that a limited inquiry was to be held – behind closed doors – by the Social Services Inspectorate. She insisted it would fail to uncover the truth behind her son’s tragic death.
She said, “I won’t be properly represented at this inquiry. It won’t be properly resourced and it won’t have the power to call the Youth Justice Board and other organisations. “I’m utterly disgusted, particularly because the family of a young boy who died in the care of the state were the last to know about it.”
Joseph killed himself at Stoke Heath young offender’s institute, in Shropshire, where he was sent after being convicted of street robbery. The teenager was known to be deeply disturbed, and to have made a previous suicide attempt, yet he was not classified as high risk. A statement issued by Paul Goggins, Mr Blunkett’s deputy, acknowledged that the Coroner at Joseph’s inquest urged the Home Secretary to hold a public inquiry.
That call was echoed by no fewer than 77 MPs, who signed a parliamentary motion tabled by Chris Ruane, Labour MP for Vale of Clwyd. “What I would like to come out of Joseph’s death is that all children are removed from the care of the prison service, who time and time again have failed to care for those children, and instead put them into local authority secure units under the care of local authorities.”
Joseph had been sentenced to a two year detention and training order for his part in the street robbery of a mobile phone. The inquest heard that he had suffered repeated sexual abuse as a young child and had a history of self harm and suicidal behaviour. Two weeks before his trial he slashed his face 30 times with a knife. The trial judge said he wanted Joseph’s self harming and history of sexual abuse “most expressly drawn to the attention of the authorities”, the inquest heard.
On arrival at Stoke Heath, Joseph was placed in a “strip cell” and monitored by CCTV. He was made to wear a one-piece gown, which was described at the inquest as a “dehumanizing garment”. Four days later he was put in a normal cell in the institution’s health care unit and observed every 30 minutes. On the ninth day he was seen alive at 2.45pm and found hanging twenty minutes later.
Inquiries by the prison service, social services and a consultant adolescent psychiatrist were unanimous in saying that prison service accommodation was not suitable for Joseph, the inquest heard.
Stoke Heath’s medical officer said the youth had been “deeply traumatized”. He said “the standard of care is less than that provided to patients receiving care through the national health system” and that the hospital was “totally and utterly inappropriate” for Joseph.
Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, said after the case: “All the statutory agencies charged with the protection of a deeply distressed and vulnerable child failed him. This inhuman and degrading treatment of a child is a matter of national shame.”
Home Office Report
18 September 2006
Court blocks inmate death inquiry
16 January 2006
The human cost of zero tolerance
11 October 2004
Inquiry call over youth’s cell death
10 November 2003