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http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2007/feb/16/youthjustice.law

Boy's death in secure unit 'a disaster waiting to happen'

· Failure to review restraints shames ex-board chief
· Inquest on 15-year-old hears of other incidents

Laura Smith 16th February 2007

The death of the first child ever to die in a privately run secure unit was "a disaster waiting to happen", the head of the Youth Justice Board at the time of the incident said yesterday.

Gareth Myatt, from Stoke on Trent, was 15 when he choked to death after being restrained by three adult staff at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire, a privately run institution for young offenders, two days into a 12-month detention and training order.

He is the only child to have died in custody following restraint.

The inquest into his death in Northamptonshire was told that there had been at least four incidents in which children complained of being unable to breathe while restrained by members of staff.

On at least one occasion a child had to be hospitalised and was left with red marks on his neck and blood haemorrhaging in his eyes. On another a young man reported vomiting while being held down. Another was left wearing a neck brace.

Giving evidence on the second day of the inquest, Mark Perfect, Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board between 1998 and 2004, told the court: "It was a disaster that happened so it was a disaster waiting to happen."

Mr Perfect admitted that the cases in the months leading up to Gareth's death had not been flagged up by the YJB's monitoring for inspection system.

An investigation into the use of restraints after Gareth's death found that the methods used in two thirds of the cases of restraint examined at Rainsbrook were "potentially lethal", resulting in occasions "where the lives of children were unacceptably endangered".

The inquest, which is expected to last four weeks, will examine whether the system of restraint used in secure training centres - called Physical Control in Care (PCC) - was safe for use on children. The specific method used on Gareth, called a seated double embrace, had been approved by the Home Office and Youth Justice Board but was withdrawn after his death and has not been used since.

Mr Perfect said he was ashamed and embarrassed at the YJB's failure to review the method of restraint during his tenure and admitted he had not been made aware of the incidents of injury involving other children.

He said: "I am not proud of the failure to review PCC and I apologise."

The only review into restraint techniques for young people in custody during his tenure was carried out by the National Children's Bureau and failed to investigate the safety of the procedures in place. This was despite a commitment in 1998 by the Home Office to carry out a safety review.

Mr Perfect told the jury: "It's something I regret. Whatever we did was not enough. These things are terrible when they happen. We were responsible for monitoring the whole system and I am embarrassed that our commitment to do that did not happen.

Earlier Gareth's mother Pamela Wilton told the court that her son was a "cheerful, loving boy" who was small for his age. She described her son, who was mixed race, as "vulnerable" and said he suffered identity problems because he did not have a relationship with the relatives on the black side of his family.

She told the court: "When the authorities took him away from me I thought he was going to be safe and that he would be coming home to me."

She said she had received no apology or offer of support after his death.

She said: "It has devastated me, virtually stopped my life."

Asked what would help her move on, she said: "To get the truth."

The hearing continues.

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