Jury finds prison failings 'causative' of prisoner's death

By agency reporter
October 21, 2017

Following a five day inquest at Doncaster Coroner’s Court, a jury found that the failures of Serco and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust to deal with bullying, violence and substance abuse at HMP Doncaster were causative of the death of Gerard Scahill on 22 April 2016.

Gerry was a vulnerable man with a long history of mental health issues and substance abuse, who was serving a nine year sentence at HMP Doncaster.

On his entry to HMP Doncaster in October 2015, prison and healthcare staff were made aware of threats to Gerard Scahill by prison gangs, and during his stay became aware of his use of ‘spice’ and his history of mental health issues.

During his stay, Scahill  raised concerns about his welfare to prison staff. On three occasions, in the period leading to his death, he reported to the prison staff that he was under threat and scared for his safety. On one occasion, he had to be returned to his wing under prison escort and he subsequently refused to leave his cell for two days. Notwithstanding his reports, there was no record that prison staff conducted any investigation, or put in place any safeguards for him.

The jury heard new psychoactive substances (NPS) known as ‘spice’ are currently rife in prison. Studies suggest that ‘spice’ and other NPS exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and can lead to self-harm, and debt. On 23 March 2016 staff found Scahill under the influence of ‘spice’. He also reported to healthcare staff that he was taking NPS on most days, and as much as he could “get hold of”. Despite this, he was never referred to the substance misuse team, who were able to offer psychotherapy treatment for NPS use.

On 22 April 2016, Gerard Scahill was found hanged in his cell. Though both Prison Officers and paramedics attempted to revive him they were unsuccessful.

In a narrative conclusion critical of the prison, the jury found, that:

  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust did not adequately and effectively manage Gerard Scahill's use of ‘spice’ and this was causative of his death.
  • Serco prison staff did not adequately and effectively manage the threats and bullying that Scahill reported, and this was also causative of death.
  • Non causative failures regarding training on the unlock procedure.
  • The jury could not be certain that Scahill intended to kill himself.

Gerard Scahill's family are understandably devastated by his death but are pleased that the jury identified the failings that led to hid death. They hope that HMP Doncaster, private prison providers and contractors, and the wide prison service will now implement changes to ensure that incidents like this are not repeated.

Jenny Fraser, solicitor for the family, said, “Sadly this is yet another death at a private prison, and it’s welcome that the jury have clearly identified the significant failings of both Serco and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust towards the people in their custody”.

* Inquest http://www.inquest.org.uk/index.php/

[Ekk/6]

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