26th January 2012

Following the deaths of two children in custody in less than a week, INQUEST Co-Director Deborah Coles said:

The tragic news that two children have apparently taken their own lives in custody in less than a week is not only shocking but unacceptable and a sad indictment of the way we treat children in conflict with the law.

The deaths of Jake Hardy and Alex Kelly whilst in the care of the state are not isolated cases and raise ongoing questions about why we continue to send some of our most vulnerable children into unsafe institutions ill-equipped to deal with their complex needs.

INQUEST has consistently argued for a holistic inquiry, in public, to examine the underlying systemic and policy issues. The failure of successive governments to hold an inquiry makes it impossible to learn from failures that have cost children their lives. We hope that this week’s events not only prompt parliamentary debate but decisive action by this government.

Notes to editors

Jake Hardy (17 years old) was found at HMYOI Hindley in Wigan last Friday 20 January and was taken to hospital. He died on Tuesday 24 January 2012. The Prison Service has said he had been identified as being at risk or suicide or self-harm. INQUEST is providing support to his family.

Alex Kelly (15 years old) was taken to hospital from HMP & YOI Cookham Wood near Rochester on Tuesday 24 January where he died on Wednesday 25 January 2012.  The Prison Service has said he had been identified as being at risk of suicide or self-harm.

INQUEST’s casework and monitoring has documented the 33 deaths of children in penal custody in England and Wales since 1990.

INQUEST has been campaigning for a public inquiry into the treatment of children within the juvenile justice system since the death of 16 year old Joseph Scholes, a deeply disturbed young boy who hanged himself in his cell at Stoke Heath YOI in Shropshire in March 2002. The deaths of children in custody raise thematic issues that need to be addressed in a joined-up manner through a properly resourced inquiry so that appropriate recommendations are made to ensure that lessons are learned and safeguards put in place to protect the lives of children in the future. 

INQUEST has a unique overview of the issues raised by the deaths of children in custody, having worked extensively with the families of the children who have died in custody and the lawyers representing them. As well as working with the family of Joseph Scholes, INQUEST has worked with the families of:

  • Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old boy, died in June 2004 at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre after three members of staff restrained him at HMYOI  They continued despite his protests that he could not breathe and he died as a result of the restraint.
  • Adam Rickwood, at 14 the youngest child to die in custody, died in August 2004 at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre. Adam was found hanging hours after being hit on the nose by staff using a painful state-sanctioned “nose distraction technique”, subsequently found to be unlawful.
  • Liam McManus, a 15-year-old serving one month and 14 days for breach of licence at HMYOI Lancaster Farms, was found hanging from his cell bars in November 2007. The inquest jury decided Liam’s death was due to “systemic failings”.

In 2005 INQUEST published the first detailed analysis of child deaths as In The Care Of The State? Child Deaths in Penal Custody in England and Wales by Barry Goldson and Deborah Coles.

INQUEST has raised the issues highlighted by the deaths of children in custody at a national and international level as well as through various parliamentary inquiries (including the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Prevention on Torture).