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INQUEST JURY HIGHLIGHTS FAILURES AT HMP ELMLEY AFTER DEATH OF LEVI SMITH
20 February 2017
Levi Smith, aged 41, a member of a Kent based traveller family, died in his cell in HMP Elmley on the morning of 12 November 2014, having suspended himself with a ligature attached to the door frame. The jury concluded that his death was an accident – the unintended consequence of his deliberate act – in other words a cry for help.
At the time of his death Levi had only four weeks of his sentence to serve before his release. From 22nd October, after being moved to a different house block within the prison, Levi became very concerned about death threats from members of a rival traveller family housed with him. His genuine fear manifested itself in a series of panic attacks, some of which resulted in outside hospital treatment.
On the 11th November Levi was taken to the healthcare unit suffering from a severe anxiety attack and in very real distress, declaring that he would “string himself up” if he was relocated to the house block the next day. He informed officers he had been told by ‘a governor’ that he would. An ACCT (Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork) document was opened, noting the risk of suicide and making provision for hourly checks on Levi overnight. Officers attempted to assure Levi that he would not be returned to the house block before a review the following morning as part of the ACCT process. It would appear that these assurances were not sufficient to overcome Levi’s fear at the prospect of being returned to the house block. He was discovered suspended in his cell shortly after 6.45 am.
His was the fourth self-inflicted death at HMP Elmley in 2014.
During the inquest the jury heard evidence about Rule 45 (of the Prison Rules 1999) which allows the prison to remove prisoners from association if it is in the interests of good order or discipline or where it is in the prisoner’s “own interests”: “Prisoners are segregated in their own interests when there are good and sufficient reasons for believing that the prisoner’s safety and well being cannot reasonably be assured by other means”.
Today, the jury returned a detailed narrative conclusion, confirming that the failure of a Governor and his staff to segregate a vulnerable prisoner under Rule 45 of the Prison Rules possibly contributed to his death. The jury also identified a raft of other failures and short-comings of the prison but were not required by the Assistant Coroner to determine whether these also contributed to the death.
Levi’s oldest sister, Racheal Smith, said:
“We believe the prison failed Levi, they failed to look after him as they should have done. If they had looked after him and took my mum’s phone call more seriously than they did do, I believe my brother would still be alive today” .
Levi’s daughter, Rachel, said:
“We do miss him dearly and not a moment goes by that we don’t think of him. We miss him more than words can say” .
Levi’s father, Levi Smith (senior) said:
“Wherever I went, my son went with me, he was like my shadow, when Levi went a part of me went with him”.
The family don’t have any further comments to make at this time
Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said:
“What happened to Levi is another example of a prison system in crisis. The shocking fact that there has been 4 further self-inflicted deaths in the same prison speaks for itself and underlines the urgency for action and accountability. There is a disconnect between policies and practice where repeated inquest findings and recommendations are simply not followed.”
Solicitor for Levi Smith’s family, Beth Handley of Hickman and Rose solicitors said:
“The jury concluded that the failure to place Levi on Rule 45 segregation possibly contributed to Levi's death.By failing to guarantee his removal from association with those who had threatened him the prison unnecessarily created unbearable uncertainty about his safety. This was yet another possibly avoidable and unnecessary tragedy from which his family will struggle to recover.”
INQUEST has been working with the lawyers for the family of Levi Smith since September 2016. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Beth Handley from Hickman and Rose Solicitors and Sean Horstead from Garden Court Chambers.
Notes to editors:
INQUEST monitoring figures show there were 4 self inflicted deaths at HMP Elmley in 2014. There have been a further 4 self-inflicted deaths at the prison since then.
For further information, please contact Gill Goodby (media) or Selen Cavcav (Casework) on 0207 263 1111.
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.
‘The decision to publish the Cass report is an extraordinary victory for INQUEST… Belatedly, it lifts another layer of camouflage from the secrets, lies and impunity that prevail in large sections of the British state and make such terrible events not merely possible but more likely…What INQUEST, Celia Stubbs and countless others around the world – say, the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Disappeared in Argentina – keep reminding us is not just that the instincts of the powerful are wrong, but that they can also be defeated, however long it may take.’
– David Ransom, friend of Blair Peach and former editor of New Internationalist magazine