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Inquest opens into death of Thomas Morris, fourth of seven self-inflicted deaths in HMP Woodhill in 2016

26 June 2017

Before HM Senior Coroner Tom Osborne
Milton Keynes Coroner's Court, sitting at Christ the Cornerstone
300 Saxon Gate, Milton Keynes MK9 2ES

Opens 26 June 2017 - expected to last 8 days

Today an inquest hearing has opened into the death of Thomas Morris, 31, who was found hanged in his cell in HMP Woodhill one year ago today. His was the fourth of seven deaths at the prison that year, which had the highest number and rate of self-inflicted deaths across the estate in 2016. After Thomas’s death prisoners on his wing all signed a petition, which was given to the Governor raising concerns about the care Thomas had received.

Some of the key issues the inquest must address are:

  • Adherence to suicide and self-harm prevention procedures, including risk assessment and observation levels
  • The adequacy of support by the mental health team
  • Information sharing between prison officers, the substance misuse team and mental health team
  • The decision to move Thomas off unit 2A, which houses specialist support for those detoxing from drugs and alcohol

Most of these issues have arisen in relation to previous deaths at HMP Woodhill. A judicial review was brought against the prison, and there have been numerous critical inquest results (see notes to editors).

Thomas had a complex history of substance misuse & mental health issues, including depression. He had been to HMP Woodhill several times over the preceding years for short periods before his remand on 28 January 2016 for offences of theft & burglary.

The inquest will hear that Thomas sought support from the mental health team. He was assessed on 16 March, following which the team decided he did not need their continued input. On multiple occasions staff began to monitor him under suicide prevention procedures for brief periods, then stopped. Despite the prison noting that Thomas was displaying high levels of paranoia and said that he could feel things crawling under his skin, psychiatrist Dr. Van Horn did not diagnose a serious mental illness.

The inquest will also hear that Thomas’s father contacted the prison on multiple occasions because he was concerned about his son. Initially he received a letter in reply assuring him that Thomas was being supported. After learning that his son had attempted suicide on 15 May he raised concerns again; the prison responded saying that they could not disclose information to him. 

On 19 June Thomas was moved away from the specialist unit after he threw his television over the unit landing. Suicide and self-harm monitoring was started again on 21 June after a prison chaplain raised concerns. Thomas was found by an officer at about 12.20am on 26 June hanged with a sheet tied to the cell window bars. Despite resuscitation attempts he could not be revived.
ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS
For further information, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or lucymckay@inquest.org.uk

INQUEST has been working with the family of Thomas Morris since his death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group member Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors & Nick Armstrong of Matrix Chambers.

1. A total of 18 self-inflicted deaths have taken place in Woodhill since early 2013, when concerns were first raised. Since then families were granted a judicial review aiming to address the high number of self-inflicted deaths in Woodhill.

2. The high court rejected this claim, however since then an inquest jury concluded that failure by HMP Woodhill to learn from previous suicides caused the death by neglect of Daniel Dunkley who died just five weeks after Thomas.

3. Daniel Dunkley died on 2 August 2016 in HMP Woodhill. At the inquest in April, the acting Governor accepted that if the prison had implemented previous recommendations which followed deaths Daniel would probably not have died. More information on the conclusions of the inquest can be found here.

4. The number of self-inflicted deaths in prisons across England and Wales has more than doubled since 2013. More information on the record number of self-inflicted deaths in prisons is available here, or in the Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody statistical bulletins.

5. A list of the 17 self-inflicted deaths in HMP Woodhill between May 2013 and November 2016 can be found here. The 18th death was that of Jason Basalat, aged 52 who was found hanging in his cell on 11 December 2016.

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