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Inquest into death of Dwane Harper at HMP Woodhill begins today

23 February 2015

10am, Monday 23 February 2015
Milton Keynes Coroner’s Court, Civic Offices, 1 Saxon Gate East, Central Milton Keynes MK9 3EJ
Before Coroner Tom Osbourne

32 year old Dwane Harper was found hanging in his cell on the segregation unit at HMP Woodhill on 4 April 2014. The inquest into his death will be heard before a jury at Milton Keynes Coroner’s court from 23 February. The hearing is due to last seven days.

Dwane had a long history of mental health problems and had spent much of his adult life in prison. He was released on licence on the 14 August 2013 but his licence was revoked two days later when he did not report to the probation service.

The Inquest will hear that on reception at HMP Woodhill on 16 August his risk of self-harm and suicide was assessed as low despite previous suicide attempts in prison and his long history of mental health problems and drug dependency.

Whilst at HMP Woodhill Dwane was under the care of the prison’s mental health team and a psychiatrist.

In January 2014 Dwane’s mother, Susan Harper, reported to staff that Dwane had mentioned having suicidal thoughts during a telephone call. Staff decided not to monitor him formally under the Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork process but to monitor him informally. Dwane was later monitored formally under this scheme for two short periods.

The Inquest will hear that on 29 March 2014 Dwane refused to return to his cell saying he felt unsafe on the wing. He asked to go to segregation. His request was refused. An incident took place during which Dwane was restrained and removed to segregation.

The Inquest will hear that once on the segregation unit Dwane’s mental health deteriorated. He appeared paranoid. A mental health nurse saw Dwane on 1 April and he was seen by a psychiatrist on 2 April. The psychiatrist prescribed antipsychotic medication and planned to review Dwane in a week and to consider referring him to a secure psychiatric hospital if there was no improvement.

Dwane was found hanged in his cell in the early hours of 4 April.

Dwane’s death was the 6 of 7 deaths at HMP Woodhill since 2013. Inquest juries have been critical of the care of Stephen Farrar, who was found hanging in his cell on 12 December 2013, and of Kevin Scarlett, who was found hanging in his cell on 22 May 2013. Like Dwane they too had metal health problems and a history of previous suicide attempts in prison.

Dwane’s family hope that the inquest will be able to address serious questions and concerns they have about the care and treatment Dwane received from Woodhill in the period before his death, including:

• The adequacy of the prisons response and management of Dwane’s risks and mental health needs;
• The justification for placing Dwane in segregation and whether the increased risk posed by this decision was properly considered in light of his declining mental health;
• The adequacy of the prisons response when Dwane was found hanging in his cell.

The family is represented at the inquest/hearing by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jo Eggleton from Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors and barrister Raj Desai of Matrix chambers.

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