Coroner calls for lessons to be learned following death of immigration detainee

By agency reporter
December 21, 2018

The family of an immigration detainee who died on the day he was set for release from a privately run jail in Liverpool have spoken out after the inquest into his death concluded, with the Coroner calling for lessons to be learned by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

Polish-national Michal Netyks had been serving a short sentence at the G4S run prison. He was found dead on 7 December last year, and was the eleventh immigration detainee to die nationally in 2017.

Following an inquest into his death, the inquest jury concluded that it was the result of suicide, which was in part contributed to by the immigration deportation process.

The jury recorded a detailed narrative conclusion setting out the events leading up to Netyks' death, and found that on the day he was due to be released, he had packed his belongings and was looking forward to reconciling with his partner.

However, on the morning of 7 December, Netyks was served with a notice that he would be detained pending possible deportation to Poland. The jury found that he died due to a blunt force head injury at 12:33pm that day after jumping headfirst from a first-floor landing at HMP Altcourse.

Senior Coroner André Rebello issued a report to prevent future deaths, calling on the Home Office and Ministry of Justice to address matters of concern raised during the inquest. The concerns outlined by the Coroner included that:

  • Foreign nationals who are liable for deportation have no access to free legal advice, for example through duty lawyer schemes if they are not detained in an immigration detention centre
  • The evidence indicated that Michal Netyks was working and had a family life in Wales before his sentence, and it appeared unfair that he was required to provide evidence of this whilst in prison when the Home Office could easily have checked with HMRC or his employer
  • During the inquest, the Home Office disclosed partially redacted notes which indicated that records had been deleted by senior management, with the Coroner finding this "needs investigation and an explanation as its effect is to manipulate statistics – it appears to be almost a denial of the facts.
  • Prison officers required to serve papers related to deportation "would be more effective if they were provided with a training package, making them aware of the deportation process" by the Home Office.

The inquest also heard that the Ministry of Justice will review the design of the prison in relation to provision of safety netting and the railings on the landing which Michal had climbed and jumped from. The Coroner asked for confirmation of the outcome of this review.

The eight-day inquest at Liverpool and Wirral Coroners Court heard that Netyks died from a head injury after jumping from the first-floor.

On the day of his death, Netyks was originally set for release from prison, however hours before he took his own life he had received paperwork from the Home Office that said he would remain in custody at Altcourse pending possible deportation to Poland.

Arthur Netyks, Michal’s brother, said: “I miss my brother daily and the inquest has been a difficult time. However we are glad that we have been given some answers now for whether more could have been done to help my brother.

"When Michal Netyks came to the United Kingdom he was a young man full of faith and hope for a better future. Unfortunately right before his incarceration his life had hit a rough patch, which resulted in him being sentenced to a short imprisonment at Altcourse prison.

"A year on from Michal's death, the family remains devastated by our loss and we find it worrying that there have been so many immigration detainee deaths in the same year.”

Oliver Carter, the public law specialist at Irwin Mitchell representing the family, said: “The inquest has been a deeply emotional time for Michal’s family. Hearing about his final hours, and reliving their devastating loss has been traumatising and upsetting.

"The jury heard that Michal was looking forward to being released from prison on 7 December 2017, restarting his life in the UK and his relationship with his partner. Unfortunately, he was only told that morning that the Home Office would be detaining him beyond his release date.

"The jury heard that Michal was told he would be removed from the UK, but he is unlikely to have understood that he had a right to appeal the decision to deport him. The documents from the Home Office were only provided to him in English, and the immigration officer who was present in the prison that day did not speak to Michal.

"We know Michal would have found it difficult to access specialist legal advice to appeal against deportation, but with advice from an immigration lawyer he could have proved to the Home Office that he had been living and working in the UK for 12 years and that he should not be deported.

"Tragically, just hours after being told that he wouldn’t be released, Michal jumped from the first floor landing in the prison and suffered a fatal head injury.

"While nothing will change what they have been through, the inquest has raised important points regarding the support Michal was given after he received the paperwork from the Home Office. Hopefully these lessons will be learned not just here but nationally too.

We will continue to work with Michal’s family, and ensure they receive the support they need.”

Róza and Ryszard Netyks, Michal’s parents, said: “Michal’s death was a blow that shattered both our lives. To this day we find it extremely difficult to cope with the absence of our beloved son from our lives and keep wondering about the circumstances of his death.

“Therefore we would like to express our deep gratitude to Senior Coroner André Rebello and the members of the jury for the time and effort they took to peer into the circumstances surrounding the death of our son, as well as to the office of the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman for the time they spent on the case.

"We would also like to express our gratefulness to the legal team involved in the proceedings, solicitor Oliver Carter of Irwin Mitchell Solicitors and barrister James Dixon, for their help in dealing with this tragic matter as well as Anita Sharma and the INQUEST charity for their support. 

 "Nothing will bring back the light that our son brought into our lives. However we are hoping that the findings from the Inquest into his death will lead to conclusions that will, in the future, help to save the lives of others under similar circumstances as Michal.”

Deborah Coles, Director of the charity INQUEST who supported the family said: “This death is the preventable consequence of a cruel and inhumane immigration process. One can only imagine the impact on Michal’s mental health, left alone with his thoughts having been told he would remain in prison, when he had been preparing himself for release. 

"This critical inquest conclusion is evidence that the Home Office are responsible for yet another death. As in numerous other cases of immigration detainees in prison, the Home Office have failed to acknowledge Michal’s death in any public reporting. Their conduct in this inquest has been part of a wider pattern of denial and obfuscation.

"Like Michal, many former prisoners who go on to be detained under immigration powers in prisons are unable to access the support and legal advice they are entitled to, in breach of their basic human rights. These dangerous Home Office practices must be addressed, to prevent ongoing suffering and future deaths.”

* Irwin Mitchell Solicitors https://www.irwinmitchell.com/

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