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As the High Court finds no evidence of systemic failures at HMP Woodhill, INQUEST calls on the next Government to step in to halt the spiralling death toll in prisons
On 23 May 2017, the High Court handed down judgment in the case brought by the relatives of Ian Brown and Danny Dunkley who took their own lives in HMP Woodhill in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
The Claimants sought a declaration that the Governor of the prison and Secretary of State for Justice had acted unlawfully by failing to take appropriate steps to reduce the rate of suicide and an order requiring the Defendants to take action to try to prevent further suicides.
INQUEST has intervened in this judicial review because of ongoing concerns about the lack of a national oversight mechanism to monitor, audit and follow up actions taken in response to recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and Coroners. They have given a detailed submission to the court (available on request).
While the Court noted that the parties to the judicial review agreed that the highest rate, and the highest number, of self-inflicted deaths in any prison in the entire prison estate had occurred at HMP Woodhill , the Court rejected the claim on the basis that the evidence demonstrated a series of distinct but separate operational mistakes in suicide prevention at the prison. As different mistakes were made in specific factual circumstances, the Court said that the evidence did not demonstrate a systemic failure.
18 men have taken their own lives in HMP Woodhill since May 2013; 5 in 2015 and 7 in 2016 (as noted above, the highest number in the prison estate).
• Ian Brown committed suicide in his cell in HMP Woodhill on 19 July 2015. He was the 3rd of the 5 men to take their own lives there in 2015. The jury at the inquest into his death concluded that there was a failure to carry out the prison’s suicide prevention procedures and reviews, and this failure may have caused or contributed to his death.
• Danny Dunkley was found suspended by ligature in his cell on 29 July 2016, and died on 2 August 2016 as a result of the injuries he sustained. He was the 5th of 7 men to take their own lives there in 2016. Last month an inquest jury found a series of failings caused his death including an inadequate understanding of the importance of the prison’s suicide prevention procedures across the board and the failure by the prison to implement previous recommendations.
Jo Eggleton, who acts for the Claimants and other Woodhill families said:
“My clients didn’t bring this claim to set a legal precedent or get damages. They brought it to try to save lives by forcing the prison to make the changes identified by the PPO, inquest juries and the Coroner over the years. It worked. There have been no self-inflicted deaths in HMP Woodhill this year. By this time last year 3 men had taken their own lives. Senior managers have accepted that the response to previous deaths was inadequate and had they implemented previous recommendations sooner it may have prevented the deaths that occurred 2016. It is important that PPO and coronial investigations ascertain not just individual failings but also whether there were wider problems. Otherwise evidence about those systemic issues may remain hidden. My clients just hope that the prison continues to improve without the looming scrutiny of the High Court.”
Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said:
“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. The current system is not fit for purpose, does not result in lesson learning and puts prisoners lives at risk by failing to make meaningful changes to dangerous practices and systems.
Since this judicial review case was heard before Easter, two inquests have taken place into deaths in HMP Woodhill, both returning critical findings. At the inquest into the death of Danny Dunkley, it was accepted by the Governor in an open court that, had the previous recommendations been implemented, the chances are that Danny would have been alive today.
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. The new Justice Secretary and Ministerial colleagues must act to put a flawed and dangerous system right and ensure that changes are implemented, and sustained improvements enforced to prevent future deaths”
INQUEST has been working with the family of Ian Brown since July 2015, with the family of Daniel Dunkley since August 2016 and is supporting a number of other families affected. The claimants are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn and Adam Straw of Doughty Street Chambers.
NOTES TO EDITORS
For further information, please contact Gill Goodby or Lucy McKay on 0207 263 1111.
Here is our opening media release.
Here is the media release issued at the inquest conclusion into the death of Michael Cameron
Here is the media release issued at the inquest conclusion into the death of Danny Dunkley
INQUEST provides specialist advice on deaths in custody or detention or involving state failures in England and Wales. This includes a death in prison, in police custody or following police contact, in immigration detention or psychiatric care. INQUEST's policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths.
Please refer to INQUEST the organisation in all capital letters in order to distinguish it from the legal hearing.
‘At the time of the tragedy, I had no idea of what to do or who to turn to. By luck, I found yourselves and contacted you, the rest as we say is history. On behalf of [my brother's] family, friends and myself I would just like to thank you so much for your professional support and advice during that difficult period and without that help, I do not think we would be where we are today.’
– Brother of a man who died in police custody