02:05, May 02 331 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-02 02:05:03
Call for inquiry over 'unbroken patten' of deaths at prison

The prison service is facing calls for a corporate manslaughter investigation after a litany of failures at one Milton Keynes site resulted in an “unbroken pattern of deaths”, with 18 inmates taking their own lives in four years.

HMP Woodhall came under fire during an inquest in to one of the fatalities that prompted demands for a national response to a “broken and dangerous prison system and the unacceptable death toll”.

Deborah Coles, director of campaign group Inquest, said the death of 35-year-old Daniel Dunkley, who killed himself in July last year, showed warnings had been ignored and raised serious questions for senior managers at the site.

“The unbroken pattern of Woodhill deaths reveals a systematic failure at a local and national level to act in response to critical inquest findings and recommendations for action,” she said.

“The prison service must be held accountable for failures to implement recommendations and this litany of failures. They have clearly ignored warnings about the risks to health and safety of prisoners and the necessary sanctions should be enacted against those responsible.

“When any organisation fails to act on repeated warnings and this failure leads to the shocking death toll witnessed at Woodhill, it demands nothing less than a corporate manslaughter investigation.”

The coroner also called for the government “to protect prisoners’ lives”. Senior coroner Tom Osborne said that the evidence had shown that at the time of Dunkley’s death HMP Woodhill was an organisation at “breaking point, compromising prisoner safety”.

Eighteen prisoners have taken their own lives at Woodhill since May 2013. The next worst site for prisoner fatalities, HMP Leeds, had 11 deaths over the same time period.

The inquest at Milton Keynes coroner’s court ruled that Dunkley had taken his own life but that neglect, including the failure of the prison to implement recommendations made after previous suicides, contributed to his death.

The inmate was found hanged in his cell at Woodhill on 29 July last year and died in hospital four days later. The jury heard that on that day a senior officer had assessed that there was a low risk of suicide despite Dunkley being found with a noose around his neck two days earlier and having made repeated threats to kill himself.

Contrary to suicide protocol, no review of that assessment was carried out and staff were told to observe him twice hourly, the inquest heard.

Witnesses said that Dunkley told an officer he “could not see a way out” on the day and that he was going to hang himself. That officer issued him with disciplinary paperwork and told wing staff of the threat and said they should keep his observations up to date. He had not been checked for almost two hours prior to staff finding him hanged, the inquest heard.

The jury were told that the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) had previously made damning criticisms of Woodhill over more than a dozen prior deaths and made repeated recommendations on changes required to keep inmates safe.

The acting governor at Woodhill, Nicola Marfleet, told the hearing that the prison had repeatedly assured the PPO that his recommendations had been implemented, and accepted this was not the case. She said that if the changes had been made, Dunkley would probably not have died.

Both Marfleet and Richard Vince, the deputy director of the high-security prison estate, told the jury that a litany of serious failings in Dunkley’s case was completely unacceptable.

Included in their narrative verdict, the jury found: the failure by the prison to implement previous recommendations contributed to Dunkley’s death; the staffing levels on the wing were inadequate and it was an error for inexperienced officers to be working on the wing alone; mandatory observations were not carried out and there was an inadequate understanding of the importance of the prison’s suicide prevention procedures across the board.

Leanne Blyde-Roberts, Dunkley’s sister, said that her brother was failed by the prison. “I thought he would be safe in prison, obviously I was wrong,” she said. “I can’t tell you how difficult it has been to hear what happened.”

A Prison Service spokesman called it a tragic case and that their thoughts were with Dunkley’s family and friends. “We recognise that there were significant failings in his care, and HMP Woodhill has already put in place a number of measures to better support offenders following the PPO investigation into the death of Mr Dunkley. We will now carefully consider the findings of the inquest.

In Ireland and the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here