The mother of a jailed 17-year-old boy who hanged himself after being bullied has said she wakes up to a nightmare every day and claimed prison staff in Wigan could have prevented his suicide.
Staff at Hindley youth offenders institution have been accused of failing to give Jake Hardy proper support before he fatally injured himself in his cell on January 20 2012. He was taken to hospital but died four days later.
The teenager, who was serving six months for affray and common assault, had previously complained that he was being picked on and had said that he was better off dead, charity INQUEST said.
An inquest jury at Bolton Coroner’s Court found that he had died as a result of his own deliberate act but that there was not enough evidence to prove he intended to commit suicide, and they highlighted a number of failures at the youth jail.
His mother Elizabeth Hardy said: “While we finally have some answers, as a family we have been shocked by the attitude of some of the officers, who clearly just didn’t care that my son was being bullied.
“Other officers took such small steps and but never followed it through to the end. If they had done their job properly they could have prevented Jake’s death.
“I feel distraught that Jake could have been moved to a safer cell the night he hung himself. Every day we have to wake up to this nightmare that Jake died and some officers could have helped him.
“Jake was too vulnerable and should never have gone to a place like Hindley to start with. I kept my son safe for 17 years yet Hindley couldn’t keep him safe for two months.”
Jake had special needs and had previously been bullied at school before he was sent to the jail in December 2011.
In his first week there, he said that other boys on his wing were trying to intimidate him, INQUEST said, and a short while later said he would be better off dead and that officers “took the piss out of him”.
On January 17 2012 he cut his wrist and told staff he had been suffering verbal abuse for “a prolonged period of time”, and the following day his mother warned a senior officer that he had thought of ending his life.
Over the next few days inmates shouted through his cell door and kicked it, and he damaged furniture in his cell over the abuse.
On January 20, a senior officer locked him in his cell, saying he was going home, and less than an hour later the teenager was found hanged.
He left a note saying: “So mum if you are reading this I not alive cos I can not cope in prison people giveing me shit even staff”, and had written on a complaint form that he wanted staff to “do their job properly”.
The jury found that Jake’s death was contributed to by failures to give him enough support, record his suicidal thoughts and reports of verbal abuse, and move him to another cell.
On the day he died, there were also failures to let him use the phone, protect him from other inmates, and review his risk of self-harm and the number of times he would be checked.
The family’s solicitor Helen Stone said: “The jury have delivered a devastatingly critical verdict identifying a range of serious failings from the moment Jake entered Hindley until the time he hanged himself.
“He constantly asked staff to protect him from bullying, they failed to do so and this caused to him take his own life.
“As Jake said in the complaints form he wrote, all Jake wanted was for staff to do their job properly, they failed to do so, they failed him, and materially contributed to this child’s death.”
Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, said: “Jake Hardy was utterly failed by prison officers and a prison system supposed to protect him.
“Every warning sign about his vulnerability was starkly evident but systematically ignored.
“The decision to ignore the heartbreaking pleas for help from a scared child alone in his cell, resulting in his desperate act, should shame us all.
A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Our sympathies are with Jake Hardy’s family and friends.
“We will consider the findings of his inquest to see what lessons can be learned in addition to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s investigation.
“Since Jake’s death we have made strenuous efforts to make changes and share learning. This includes the circulation of a number of bulletins that highlight key learning points and suggested actions to establishments
Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen, who investigated Jake’s death, expressed concerns about the treatment of children behind bars.
He said: “This is a disturbing story of failure to protect properly a young person with multiple vulnerabilities. None of the systems designed to protect children at Hindley worked effectively and there were many failures to share information.
“He was very vulnerable but it appeared almost as if no-one heard what he was telling them or appreciated that his sometimes challenging behaviour might be a symptom of significant distress.
“Tragically, this is one of three apparently self-inflicted deaths of children in custody my office has investigated in the past two years. In each case, I have been concerned that too many of the systems in YOIs holding children replicate those in adult prisons. Once again, a number of our criticisms in this investigation repeat this theme.
“Accordingly, while a large number of recommendations are made to learn lessons and address the specific failures identified in his case, there are also some broader recommendations to the National Offender Management Service and Youth Justice Board intended to ensure a more holistic and child-focused approach to managing and safeguarding children at risk of suicide and self-harm.”
The other two deaths are Alex Kelly, 15, who was at Cookham Wood in Kent, and Ryan Clark, 17, who was at Wetherby, West Yorkshire.