Adam Rickwood’s Story by Carolyne Willow

Recently I blogged the court appeals about the death of Adam Rickwood,  [3] [4] [5] who killed himself in 2004, aged 14 not long after the use of unlawful restraint and distraction techniques by SERCO.

Adams death was shocking, even through the cold, unfeeling technical prose of a court hearing and transcript.

The courage and persistence of his mother, Carol Pounder,  in trying to find out what happened and ensure the establishment and corporations was held to account was massive but the effort must have drained her to the core.

The establishment still managed to wriggle away from justice, but were seen to have to accept the responsibility for Adams death.

Carolyne Willow is several years ahead of me. Adam Rickwood’s treatment and death was not an isolated case. Here I have taken part of her moving article Mothers and Sons, which is about Adam Rickwood.

Mothers and sons. On children who have died in UK prisons

Carolyne Willow    22 June 2015

Adam’s story

Adam was a lively boy who loved being in the outdoors. He enjoyed camping and rabbiting. On Saturdays he would wash cars and help out at a local garage. He had ambitions to become a police officer, then he planned to set up a garage business; friends said they could help get him started.

Adam RIckwood

I met Adam’s mother, Carol Pounder, at her home in Burnley, Lancashire. She told me that Adam was small for his age, a ‘mummy’s boy’ whose behaviour changed when he was nine. Five family members died within a four-year period and these deaths “played on Adam’s head”, Carol said. He was constantly crying and upset, he would have angry outbursts.

“He wanted to know why people died,” Carol said. “I tried to explain to him why people died, but he just couldn’t understand it.”

Carol sought help from social services and from her family doctor who referred Adam to a psychiatric unit. She was “in and out of school” because of difficulties there.

Eventually, in desperation, when Adam was 12, Carol left him at the social services office to force them to arrange some respite.

The local education authority and social services tussled over who should fund Adam’s residential school placement. He enjoyed his stay at a children’s home in Blackpool, 40 miles away from home, but he became homesick and, after just six days, Carol said, he “ran away and came home to me”.

When he was 14, Adam was arrested twice, once for having a penknife and another time for possessing cannabis. During a difficult two-year period he was admitted to hospital seven times following overdoses of alcohol and drugs.

Then he was charged with wounding a man and was subject to a court-ordered secure remand.

A place in a locked establishment was not immediately available so Adam spent a short period in a local (privately-run) children’s home where he settled well.

Then staff told Adam he was going to be moved to Hassockfield — a secure training centre run by the private company Serco near Consett in County Durham. The distance from Adam’s home was around 150 miles.

Hassockfield was built on the site that once housed Medomsley detention centre, where more than 1,100 former child inmates now allege they were sexually and physically abused by prison guards.

Adam panicked and ran home. He was arrested, held in the cells at Burnley police station and escorted by police officers to Hassockfield. They arrived at the prison after midnight on 10 July 2004. Adam was assessed as ‘high risk’ and monitored every five minutes.

Two days later one of the principal witnesses to the alleged wounding retracted his police statement. That should have given Adam’s lawyer the grounds she needed to appeal for bail.  

Moreover, Adam told police and a member of staff at Hassockfield that he had stabbed the man because he sexually abused him (“touched him up”). [PDF]

In a therapeutic setting, such information would be seen as significant, potentially offering further clues to Adam’s self-destructive behaviour. It would reinforce the necessity of providing a safe, caring environment. But Hassockfield was not a therapeutic environment and these two separate disclosures were not recorded in Adam’s risk profile.

Five days after Adam was taken to Hassockfield, Carol was allowed to speak with him on the telephone. Three days after that she attended a meeting there. Carol told me:

“Adam was sat there, he were crying his eyes out. He had snot dripping off his face, he were shaking. He didn’t even hardly speak throughout the meeting. His hand was all swollen and bandaged up so I asked what he’d done. Adam wouldn’t even tell me. They’d said he’d punched a wall.”

After the meeting Adam and Carol had some private time. He told her he “would do himself in” if he was not moved. Carol passed that on to a female staff member:  “Her words to me were, ‘We’ve never had a death here yet, and we’re not about to have one.’”

Hassockfield Secure Training Centre (Colin Edgar, Creative Commons, some rights reserved)

Close monitoring continued. A transfer request was made. Carol told me this did not highlight Adam’s vulnerabilities, his self-harming, poor mental health state or the prohibitive distance from home.

In his last letter home, Adam wrote: “I need to be at home with you. I need to be at home in my own bed or my head will crack up. I will probably try to kill myself and I will probably succeed this time. I can’t stay in here.”

He wrote another letter addressed “Dear Judge”. That letter, pleading for bail, is paraphrased here by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman:

“… he said he had learned his lesson and intended to stay out of trouble in the future. He said that, if he was granted bail, he knew he had ‘to stick to it and I will for definite’ because a friend had offered him a job. He said he had stopped smoking and would not smoke cannabis again. He said he wanted to change his life and start again. He asked the Judge to take into account how he was feeling about things and said he was ‘really upset and distressed’. He asked for the chance to prove that what he was saying was true.”  [PDF]

On 7 August 2004, Adam was visited by family members. Officers observed someone passing Adam cigarettes and matches. Instead of intervening, they elected to ‘discover’ the items in a search after Adam’s family had left the prison. He was placed on the lowest level of the punishment and rewards scheme and his television was removed from his cell.

That evening Adam learned that, because of the contraband, he was not allowed to earn any points for the day. He got angry, threw a plastic cup at a table which bounced and hit an officer on the arm before landing on the floor.

Adam immediately apologised and went to his cell. Nevertheless, he was locked in for around 20 minutes as punishment.

So, in about seven hours this 14-year-old child had accrued three separate punishments: relegation to the institution’s lowest privilege level, which included the removal of his television; not being able to accrue any points, and ‘time out’. All because he’d accepted seven matches and two cigarettes from a family visitor.

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman observed: “There can be little doubt of the effect this affair had on the boy – evidenced by the cup-throwing incident. He felt it was unfair (given that it was his family who brought in the cigarettes) and he would have felt the loss of points and privileges (and especially the loss of his television and CD at the weekend) keenly.”

The Ombudsman said Adam “had quickly achieved Championship status and would have been proud of that (he said on one occasion on receiving ten points for the day that he was ‘King of the world’)”. [PDF]

Carol Pounder

The following day, a Sunday, Adam and another child were in the association area of their unit. A child with special educational needs was on ‘time out’ and passed a note to Adam to give to another child. A female officer instructed Adam to hand over the note, which he did. She did not approve of what was written in the note and ordered Adam into his cell.

Adam asked what he had done wrong a couple of times. The officer tried to drag him into his cell. Adam pulled away and went to sit down at one of the unit’s fixed table and benches. Then, the officer activated the ‘first response’ restraint procedure.

Four officers came running into the unit. One of them later conceded that they found Adam quite calm and trying to defuse the situation. Still, the officers grabbed hold of Adam and carried him, face down, into his cell.

Adam struggled. An officer swiped his nose. (The official euphemism for that is ‘nose distraction’).

Hours later, Adam was found hanging in his cell. He was 14 years old.

Every day until three days before his death Adam had rung his solicitor about his bail application. He had packed a bag in preparation for a transfer back to the children’s home, which he had given to officers to safely store in the office.  

The night he died Adam had asked for his bag back. Some days after his death a letter was found in the side pocket. The letter to his family began “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!”. Adam promised to look after his deceased grandparents, and asked to be buried with his grandfather.

At Adam’s inquest, held in Chester-le-Street in Durham in 2007, Carol Pounder watched CCTV footage of her son’s final restraint.

“Basically, they beat him up,” she told me, “and they took him to his cell and left him. They beat Adam up in the association area. They carried him like a dead animal, face down. And what they said was the reason why they carried him face down was because his nose was bleeding so badly they didn’t want him to choke to death on his blood. That’s exactly what they said.”

She described more of the footage: “They throw Adam in his cell like a dog, and then they go and jump on him again….The way they were carrying my son, I actually thought he was dead. And he was in his socks. He didn’t even have shoes on his feet.”

Carol said: “And then they threw Adam in the cell, and then they all jumped on him again … I think the lightest one was 13-and-a-half stone, and you see him pushing on to the top of Adam, and you could tell they get a kick out of it. I mean, if we’d done that to a kid, well…. Then they all came running out that room, out of the cell…. When they came running out you can actually see the smirks on their faces.”

Besides the letter for his family, Adam left a statement for his solicitor:

“When the other staff came they all jumped on me and started to put my arms up my back and hitting me in the nose,” he wrote. “I then tried to bite one of the staff because they were really hurting my nose. My nose started bleeding and swelled up and it didn’t stop bleeding for about one hour and afterwards it was really sore.”

Adam’s note continues: “When I calmed down I asked them why they hit me in the nose and jumped on me. They said it was because I wouldn’t go in my room so I said what gives them the right to hit a 14-year-old child in the nose and they said it was restraint.” [PDF]

What did give them the right to hit a 14-year-old child in the nose?

Carol Pounder had to go to the High Court to get an honest answer to her son’s question.

There was no right to hurt such a child in these circumstances,” said Mr Justice Blake.

Wider admissions of abusive treatment came only with the second inquest, which concluded in January 2011.

All parties to the inquest, including the commercial contractor Serco and the Youth Justice Board, agreed that the removal of Adam to his cell had been unlawful, the use of restraint to move Adam to his cell was unlawful, the use of the ‘nose distraction’ on Adam was unlawful, and that restraint “was regularly used” unlawfully at Hassockfield before and at the time of Adam’s death.

The inquest jury found that Hassockfield was running an unlawful regime and that the Youth Justice Board’s failure to prevent Serco’s regular and unlawful use of restraint at Hassockfield constituted “serious system failure”.

The jury agreed that several factors had contributed to Adam taking his own life: being 150 miles from home, the news that a bail application was not being pursued, the unlawful use of restraint, the unlawful use of the nose distraction, and his intrinsic vulnerability.

Carol Pounder’s legal team wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking him to institute proceedings against the four individuals who had unlawfully restrained Adam, and the director of the Serco prison, Trevor Wilson-Smith. At the end of April 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service notified Carol’s lawyers that no prosecutions would be brought as, principally, a court would be likely to find that the suspects had a genuine and reasonable belief that the methods in which they had been trained to restrain children were lawful.

I asked Carol’s barrister, Richard Hermer QC, what impact the case had on him personally. He said:

“Obviously, on a human level, Adam’s story was just deeply tragic. This small child, who was clearly bright, able and insightful, met a tragic death alone in a cell.”

Hermer went on: “As a lawyer, the thing that stays with me about that case is what we discovered — namely, a detention system in which for years those responsible for the care and welfare of children were breaking the law and assaulting the children with impunity.”

Hermer was troubled by the Youth Justice Board’s response to the ruling that the system was unlawful. At the first inquest the YJB had contended that this evidence should be withheld from the jury. Thereafter the Youth Justice Board and the government tried to change the law so that the unlawful restraints would become lawful.

He said they did this “without, it seemed, any consideration as to the impact it would have on children, let alone any attempt to seek to learn lessons from what had just been discovered about unlawful practices in institutions for which they were responsible. As a lawyer, I found that a remarkably shoddy response from government”.

As for the response from Serco, the private company running Hassockfield, Hermer said that was “even worse”. Why? Because Serco “actually sought to argue that the restraints were lawful”.

Hermer said: “These were arguments that were rightly treated with some contempt by the High Court and Court of Appeal. How much better it would have been if the response of both government and Serco had been not to seek to justify the unjustifiable but to say, ‘Look, we have really messed up. What lessons can we learn? How can we make sure that this isn’t done again?’”

“What does it tell us about the way that we treat children?”

This part of Carolynes book, is only part of the article Mothers and sons. On children who have died in UK prisons [1]

Carolyne has also written two other article from her book.

Willow Mothers and sons. On children who have died in UK prisons [2]

Carolyne Willow Children Behind Bars 3 [3]


The three court appeals I have blogged are

Adam Rickwood 1. R v HM Coroner and Others 22 Jan 2009 High Court [3]

Adam Rickwood 2. R v HM Coroner and others 3 Feb 2010 High Court [4]

Adam Rickwood 3. R v Sec State Justice 6 Feb 2015 Court of Appeal [5]

This part article about Adam is from the second edited extract from Children Behind Bars: why the abuse of child imprisonment must end. Detailed references can be found in the book. See also part one: Prison, a treacherous place for a child. Our series concludes tomorrow: The sex abusers guarding Britain’s most vulnerable children.

Children Behind Bars can be purchased from Policy Press here (£12.99 plus £2.75 postage and packing). Subscribers to the Policy Press newsletter receive a 35 per cent discount. You can sign up here.

Original illustration is by Reece Wykes, working in charcoal, digitally enhanced. Wykes is a London-based illustrator and animator freshly graduated from Kingston University. He tweets @ReeceWykes

Please note that victims of abuse may be triggered by reading this information. These links are generally UK based.

  • The Sanctuary for the Abused [A] has advice on how to prevent triggers.
  • National Association for People Abused in Childhood [B] has a freephone helpline and has links to local support groups.
  • One in Four [C]
  • Havoca [D].
  • Useful post on Triggers [E]  from SurvivorsJustice [F] blog.
  • Jim Hoppers pages on Mindfulness [G]  and Meditation [H] may be useful.
  • Hwaairfan blog An Indigenous Australian Approach to Healing Trauma  [J]
  • Survivors UK for victims and survivors of male rape or the sexual abuse of men [K]
  • Voicing CSA group [L] helps arrange survivors meetings in your area
  • A Prescription for me blog Various emotional support links [M]
  • ShatterBoys -“Male Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse Inspiring change, Through Shared Experience Whilst Building Connections…Together We Can Heal” [N]



[1] 2015 Jun 22 Open Democracy Carolyne Willow Prison, a treacherous place for a child

[2] 2015 Jun 22 Open Democracy Carolyne Willow Mothers and sons. On children who have died in UK prisons

[3] 2015 Jun The Justice Gap Carolyne Willow Children Behind Bars 3

[4] 2017 Feb 14 Cathy Fox Blog Adam Rickwood 1. R v HM Coroner and Others 22 Jan 2009 High Court

[5] 2017 Feb 15 Cathy Fox Blog Adam Rickwood 2. R v HM Coroner and others 3 Feb 2010 High Court

[6] 2017 Feb 15 Cathy Fox Blog Adam Rickwood 3. R v Sec State Justice 6 Feb 2015 Court of Appeal

[7] 2011 Jan 28 Garden Court Chambers Youth Justice Agencies Condemned for Unlawful Treatment of Vulnerable Boy in Custody

[8] 2014 Jul Circumstances surrounding the death of a boy at Hassockfield SecureTraining Centre on 8 August 2004
[A] Sanctuary for the Abused










About cathy fox blog on Child Abuse

the truth will out, the truth will shout, the truth will set us free...
This entry was posted in cathyfoxblog, Child Abuse, Child sexual abuse, Childrens home, Justice System, North east, Prisons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Adam Rickwood’s Story by Carolyne Willow

  1. hollie greig justice says:


    Liked by 1 person

  2. finolamoss says:

    We are now living in a UK, where as many commodities as possible, are being harvested for profit the old, vulnerable , children who rebel, or do not adhere to the inadequate education regime, those deemed to have mental issues, the disabled, autistic and merely those deemed to be at risk of being in this group.

    They are all processed, for maximum profit, worse than animals, even when they die, the processor profit makers are not accountable.

    SERCO are/will take over all child protection and charge more than their itinerant zero hour workers including professionals for the provision of them.

    This is not privatisation, as no choice, no competition, it is extortion and abuse of our children and most vulnerable for profit.

    Thank you for exposing this and thanks to Adam’s Mum for her strength, I can’t imagine her continued suffering, but it must be made to make a difference politically and stop this modus of public abuse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Adam Rickwood’s Story by Carolyne Willow | Buried News

  4. Pingback: Waplington Report (Youth Justice Board, Hassockfield STC) | cathy fox blog on child abuse

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