An unlawful use of force contributed to the decision by the youngest person to die in custody in recent times to take his own life, an inquest jury has concluded.
Adam Rickwood, of Burnley, Lancashire, was just 14 when he was found hanging at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, near Medomsley, County Durham, in 2004.
The teenager was an “extremely troubled and vulnerable young man” with a history of cannabis abuse when he was sent 150 miles from his home town on remand after he was charged with wounding another youth, the inquest in Easington, County Durham, was told.
On the day he died, Adam had rowed with a female member of staff in the association area and was lifted by four care officers and placed face-down in his room.
On the way, care officer Steve Hodgson used the controversial nose distraction technique – a sharp painful blow – to stop the boy trying to bite him, the inquest heard.
Adam’s nose bled afterwards and he was left alone in his room to calm down.
The teenager spoke to members of staff and he did not seem too despondent afterwards, but six hours later he was found dead in his room.
The jury concluded there had been a serious system failure at the centre which led to an unlawful regime, and the panel also criticised training.
Summing up, assistant deputy coroner Jeremy Freedman said the jury should consider whether the restraint technique and the blow to his nose might have led to Adam’s death, and directed the panel to consider 16 questions relating to Adam’s death.
They focused on the events in the run-up to Adam’s death, staff training, the involvement of the Youth Justice Board, the Hassockfield regime and the factors that might have contributed “more than minimally” to his death.