Serco, we’re watching you

Because Serco’s record remains deeply troubling, it’s no wonder the Australian government continues giving the company millions of dollars. Hello, media?

A second inquest into the death of the youngest person to die in custody begins today after a high court battle. Adam Rickwood was just 14 when he died in August 2004. He was found hanging in his cell in Hassockfield Secure Training Centre (STC), County Durham, hours after he was restrained by staff.

The first inquest heard evidence that Rickwood had been identified as a vulnerable child with a history of self-harm and suicide attempts. On the day of his death he had been forcibly restrained by four staff for refusing to go to his cell when ordered to do so. A painful restraint technique called “nose distraction” – which has been variously described as a squeezing, tweaking, flicking or karate-like chop to the nose – was used against him. Hours later he was found hanging. Hassockfield is a privately run institution, operated by Serco.

At the first hearing, in 2007, the coroner refused to allow the jury to consider whether the use of force was lawful. The jury returned a verdict saying that he intended to take his own life.

Backed by the pressure group Inquest, Adam’s mother, Carol Pounder, sought a judicial review of the proceedings and in January 2009, Mr Justice Baker found that the coroner acted unlawfully, and that the physical interference with Adam was a breach of STC rules and an assault on him. He quashed the verdict and ordered a new inquest.

Adam’s death attracted parliamentary and public concern and led to calls for a radical overhaul of the use of force on children in custody.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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