09:13, May 23 114 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-23 09:13:03

 

Families of men who killed themselves at Woodhill jail lose high court case

The relatives of two inmates who killed themselves at a prison with the highest rate of self-inflicted deaths in England and Wales have lost a high court case calling for action to protect prisoners.

The families of Ian Brown and Daniel Dunkley, who died at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes in 2015 and 2016 respectively, sought a judicial review to force the prison’s governor and the justice secretary, Liz Truss, to comply with the requirements under common law, public law and human rights law “to protect prisoners from suicide”. In the past four years, 18 men have killed themselves at Woodhill, a rate that the families’ lawyer called exceptionally high.

But Lord Justice Irwin and Mr Justice Garnham ruled on Tuesday that faults at the jail amounted to “individual errors, rather than the outcome of systemic failures”.

The case was brought by Pearl Scarfe and Julie Barber, the mother and sister of Brown, 44, who killed himself in his cell in July 2015, and Jamie Blyde, the brother of Dunkley, 35, who died a few days after he was found hanging in his cell in late July 2016.

Heather Williams QC, the counsel for the families, had argued that there were systemic failures in the care of prisoners at Woodhill, a category A jail for those regarded as the most dangerous offenders. It has the highest rate and largest number of self-inflicted deaths in the prison estate.

Williams said the case raised serious breaches of fundamental provisions within article two of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which protects the right to life, and involved long-term failures to comply with the responsibility to protect prisoners.

But the prison governor and justice secretary said the claim was “neither appropriate nor necessary”.

James Strachan QC, defending, said the governor was well aware of his obligations and continued to take steps to ensure they were met. “The defendants do not dispute that the number of deaths at the prison is a legitimate matter of concern,” he said. “It calls for action to be taken.

“However, not only have the governor and the secretary of state taken significant action in 2016 to improve the situation, but as the taskforce approach shows, this is a continuing high priority.”

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, a charity that supports the relatives of people who die in custody, noted that since the case was heard in court before Easter, two inquests into the deaths of men who died at Woodhill had returned critical findings.

“This is a disappointing judgment, not least the silence of the court on the lack of oversight and accountability, and the systemic failure to act on repeated recommendations arising from investigations and inquests,” she said.

“The deplorable situation at HMP Woodhill is just one stark example of a much wider national problem. The number of self-inflicted deaths occurring in prisons in England and Wales is currently at record levels.”