Inquest opens into death at controversial Woodhill prison

By agency reporter
January 15, 2019

Ryan Harvey was 23 when he died on 8 May 2015. He was found hanging in his cell on the induction unit of Woodhill five days earlier (3 May 2015), after spending only a few weeks in the controversial Milton Keynes prison, HMP Woodhill. The inquest into his death opens on Tuesday 15 January 2019.

Ryan’s death was the eighth in a series of eighteen self-inflicted deaths at HMP Woodhill over a three year period (2013-2016). Four of those who died before Ryan had also been newly arrived prisoners on the induction wing. Significant public scrutiny arose from these deaths and changes were made to the regime at the prison. However the most recent inspection of HMP Woodhill found the prison is "still not safe enough", and there have been more deaths this year and last.

The inquest into Ryan’s death will consider:

  • The actions of the mental health team and healthcare
  • The sharing of information
  • Suicide and self-harm prevention measures (ACCT)
  • Events of the evening of 3 May 2015, when he was found hanging

Ryan had been in the prison since 22 April 2015. Prior to his arrival the healthcare department had received an email informing them that Ryan was a vulnerable adult and very suggestible. Suicide and self-harm prevention measures (ACCT) were started on the evening of 2 May when Ryan was seen in his cell with a ligature around his neck.

An ACCT assessment and first case review were undertaken in the afternoon of 3 May. At about 8.40pm Ryan was seen trying to tie the ligature around his neck to his light fitting. His observations were raised from hourly to two an hour. Ryan was found hanging and unconscious less than an hour and a half later. He was taken to Milton Keynes hospital where he died five days later.

Custodial Manager Joseph Travers stood trial in January 2018 for the offence of manslaughter. He had been in charge of the prison on the evening of 3 May 2015. He was acquitted and the Old Bailey jury provided a statement in which they recorded their view that the case has thrown up a number of “appalling systematic failures to provide front line staff with sufficient information as to the inmates background”.  

Alisa’s Harvey, Ryan’s mother said: “We’ve waited a long time to get answers to our questions about how Ryan was treated. Ryan didn’t fit into this world and didn’t think things through. I only wish he’d got the help he so desperately needed.

It’s so upsetting to hear about another death in the prison in the last few days. I sincerely hope everyone attending the inquest does so with the aim of finding out what went wrong so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again and there are no further deaths in Woodhill this year or any other year.”

Selen Cavcav, the INQUEST caseworker who has supported many families bereaved by deaths in HMP Woodhill said: “This inquest is an important opportunity to examine the systemic and repeated failures by HMP Woodhill, in relation to Ryan’s death. We hope the hearing will reinvigorate public scrutiny on the actions of this prison, which over three years on is still not safe.”

A total of 18 self-inflicted deaths took place in HMP Woodhill between January 2013 and December 2016 when concerns were first raised at the inquest into the death of Kevin Scarlett (March 2014):

  • Kevin Scarlett was found hanging in his cell and died on 22 May 2013 aged 30.
  • David Hunter was found hanging in his cell and died on 26 May 2013 aged 28.
  • Sean Brock was found hanging in his cell and died on 10 November 2013 aged 21.
  • Stephen Farrar was found hanging in his cell and died on 12 December 2013 aged 25.
  • Dwane Harper was found hanging in his cell and died on 4 April 2014 aged 33.
  • Jonathan White was found hanging in his cell and died on 14 October 2014 aged 37.
  • Daniel Byrne was found hanging in his cell and died on 27 February 2015 aged 29.
  • Ryan Harvey was found hanging in his cell and died on 8 May 2015 aged 23.
  • Ian Brown was found hanging in his cell and died on 17 May 2015 aged 44.
  • Joanna Latham was found hanging in her cell and died on 27 November 2015 aged 38.
  • Simon Turvey was found hanging in his cell and died on 29 December 2015 aged 27.
  • Ireneusz Polubinski was found hanging in his cell and died on 31 January 2016 aged 58.
  • Robert Fenlon was found hanging in his cell and died on 5 March 2016 aged 35.
  • Michael Cameron was found hanging in his cell and died on 28 April 2016 aged 45.
  • Thomas Morris was founding hanging in his cell and died on 26 June 2016 aged 32.
  • Daniel Dunkley was found hanging in his cell and died on 2 August 2016 aged 35.
  • David Reynor was found hanging in his cell and died on 25 August 2016 aged 41.
  • Jason Basalat was found hanging in his cell on 11 December 2016 aged 52.

Over that period HMP Woodhill had the highest number of self-inflicted deaths of any prison in England and Wales.  

Families bereaved by this series of self-inflicted deaths in HMP Woodhill were granted a judicial review aiming to address the high number of self-inflicted deaths in Woodhill. In May 2017 the High Court rejected this claim, however since the hearing highly critical inquests have found:

  • The failure by HMP Woodhill to learn from previous suicides caused the death by neglect of Daniel Dunkley(May 2017)
  • HMP Woodhill authorities failed to take all reasonable precautions to prevent the death of Tom Morris (July 2017)

Following the public pressure brought by the families involved in these cases, an independent review by Stephen Shaw was commissioned in May 2017 to examine the circumstances of these deaths. Following this, it was announced that Woodhill would convert from a local prison to a category B training establishment. In 2017 there were no self-inflicted deaths at the prison.

In 2018 there was one self-inflicted death at HMP Woodhill, as well as one homicide and three deaths which await classification. Earlier this month Darren Williams was found dead at the prison.

The recent inspection of HMP Woodhill found the prison has "deteriorated significantly" since the previous inspection in 2015 and is "still not safe enough".

* INQUEST https://www.inquest.org.uk/

[Ekk/6]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.