INQUEST has been awarded the Longford Prize for 2009. The award was presented at the Longford Lecture at Church House, Westminster on 2 December 2009. INQUEST was nominated for the prize by Dexter Dias QC and Brenda Campbell, barristers from Garden Court Chambers, London.
The commendation reads:
We award the 2009 Longford Prize to INQUEST for its remarkable perseverance, personal commitment and courage in an area too often under-investigated by the public authorities, and especially for its support of the families of those who have taken their own lives while in the care of the state.
The Longford Prize recognises the contribution of an individual, group or organisation working in the area of penal or social reform which has shown “outstanding qualities of humanity, courage, persistence and originality ” and was established as part of a trust in memory of the late Labour cabinet minister and outspoken prison reformer Lord Longford.
It is awarded annually by a prize committee on behalf of the trustees and patrons of the Frank Longford Charitable Trust. The Prize is sponsored by The Independent newspaper and organised in association with the Prison Reform Trust.
About Lord Longford
Frank Longford said often during his life that he would like his epitaph to be ‘the outcasts’ outcast’. It summed up a long career as a politician, writer and campaigner on social and prison policy which was about standing up for the unpopular, the unloved, the underdog and those on the margins of society.
Accepting the award for INQUEST at the Longford Lecture, Deborah Coles said:
I am delighted to accept this award on behalf of our staff , board members and volunteers. The award is also fitting tribute to the courage and tenacity of the families with whom we work.
INQUEST, the only charity in England and Wales providing an in-depth casework service to the families of those who die in custody , arranges specialist legal representation so that questions and concerns about the death are raised and families feel part of the process. It conducts 350 cases a year; it only has a staff of six. It advocates the perspective of bereaved families and it is widely consulted at a governmental level. Inquests are the only opportunity families have to ask questions in public about how their loved one died in the hope that similar deaths can be prevented.
Adam Rickwood was a very vulnerable 14-year-old boy who was found hanging in a Secure Training Centre hours after being restrained. His was the youngest ever death in custody. When his mother was informed in the middle of the night , she didn’t know what to do. Her family was stricken with grief , frightened and isolated. INQUEST provided ongoing support to guide her through the lengthy, complicated investigation and inquest process. Without INQUEST families can attend an inquest unrepresented and alone unlike the police and Prison Service that are represented by lawyers paid for out of the public purse. We arranged a specialist lawyer with whom we worked closely and attended the inquest into Adam’s death which exposed disturbing evidence about the high levels of dangerous restraint methods used against children, treatment described by Justice Nick Blake as “cruel , inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Without INQUEST’s help details of what happened to Adam and what it revealed about the shocking way we treat children in detention would not have entered the public domain. The impact of its work has resulted in other organisations , media and Parliament itself engaging with issue of child deaths in custody and the wider debate as to whether custody is ever appropriate for children.
Much of INQUEST’s work shines a spotlight on what is going on behind the closed walls of our prisons , psychiatric hospitals , police cells and following police contact and the conduct of those charged with the treatment and care of people in custody , many of whom are extremely vulnerable through mental and physical health, drug and alcohol problems. Many inquests have exposed unsafe practices and individual and systemic failings. INQUEST raises these issues at ministerial level to try and ensure meaningful change and accountable learning.
The experiences of bereaved people directly informs INQUEST’s policy, campaigning and parliamentary work and ensures that the voices of families are heard. Its unique integration of casework and policy has brought political, policy and judicial attention to the experience of bereaved people, the need for improvements to the investigation and inquest system, and for greater state and corporate accountability to prevent future deaths. INQUEST’s parliamentary lobbying and written briefings successfully influenced the final version of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
Frank Longford said often during his life that he’d like his epitaph to be the “outcasts outcast”– because INQUEST works on an unpopular and uncomfortable issue and raises very difficult questions about the state’s duty of care and how it is held to account when it fails, we and the families with whom we work are often marginalised and outcast. Fundraising is an ongoing struggle. The recognition this prize gives us renews our confidence and strength in continuing this difficult and challenging work.