Suicide Figures ‘A Damning Indictment’ of the State of Prisons Warn MPs

prison1“Mental health figures of prisoners are ’20 years out of date”

Appalling levels of suicide and self-harm behind bars are a “damning indictment” of the state of prisons, a Commons committee has warned.

In a highly critical assessment, MPs argued there are “deep-rooted failures” in the management of prisoners’ mental well-being.

The deteriorating prison estate and long-standing under-staffing have created an environment which exacerbates the mental health issues faced by prisoners, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

It also flagged up the increased availability of drugs in jails.

The committee’s report claimed the Government has no reliable or up-to-date measure of the number of inmates who have mental health problems.

Existing screening procedures were said to be insufficient to adequately identify those in need of support and treatment.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “There are deep-rooted failures in the management of prisoners’ mental health, reflected in what is an appalling toll of self-inflicted deaths and self-harm.

“Failing to attend to the mental health needs of inmates can also have devastating effects beyond the prison gates.

“The evidence is stark but there is no realistic prospect of these serious issues being properly addressed unless Government rethinks its approach.

“This must start with a meaningful assessment of the scale of the problem.

“Without adequate data it is simply not possible to determine whether Government action is making a difference – yet, incredibly, the most commonly used estimate of prisoners’ mental health problems is 20 years old.

“This is clearly not good enough and implementing more robust health-screening processes must be a priority.”

The latest official figures show there were a record 41,103 reported incidents of self-harm in prisons in England and Wales in the 12 months to June 2017, up 12% from the previous year.

There were 77 self-inflicted deaths in jails in the year to September, which was down 33 on the previous year.


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Professor Pamela Taylor, chairwoman of the forensic faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the Government “must look harder at how to prevent so many people with mental health problems ending up in prison”.

She added: “Many prisoners have severe mental disorders but are treated in an entirely inappropriate environment.”


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A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Every death in custody is a tragedy and we are redoubling our efforts to support vulnerable offenders, especially during their first 24 hours in custody.

“All prisoners are subject to health screening when entering prison and their mental health is monitored closely while they serve their sentence.

“In April this year we introduced new suicide and self-harm reduction training – over 11,000 staff have embarked on the new training.

“We continue to support the prisoner listener scheme, as well as providing extra funding for the Samaritans.

“We will continue to work closely with NHS England to improve services in a number of areas, including the process for prisoners who require transfer to secure hospitals.

“We have been clear that improving safety in our prisons is our priority – that is why we are investing £100 million to increase staffing by 2,500 officers and we are taking unprecedented action to tackle drug use which undermines safety and stability.”

Why prison is never the right place for seriously mentally ill vulnerable people

Sean Lynch pictured with his father Damien
Sean Lynch pictured with his father Damien

A report of the Prisoner Ombudsman’s investigation into Mr Lynch’s self-harm in Maghaberry Prison in June 2014 was published today.

The self-harm that Sean Lynch inflicted over a three day period was extreme and shocking. It followed deterioration of his mental health in the community and increasingly bizarre behaviour in prison.

Although a detailed Forensic Medical Officer’s assessment, which suggested formal psychiatric assessment was an “absolute necessity,” was sent to Maghaberry, Mr Lynch was treated as a routine referral. It took two weeks for him to see a psychiatrist, when he was diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis. Our clinical reviewer said problems may have been compounded by the fact that there was an eight day delay in administering an increased dosage of medication that was prescribed.

The default approach for vulnerable prisoners – the interagency Supporting Prisoner at Risk (SPAR) process was initiated. However it was never designed to care for someone as challenging as Mr Lynch. While efforts were made to comply with the letter of the process, the spirit was completely missed. Various aspects of the NIPS policy for using observation cells were also deficient and there were also indications that Mr Lynch was treated less favourably at outside hospitals because he was a prisoner.

Numerous NIPS and the SEHSCT personnel were involved, but nobody took overall responsibility for managing him, either as a patient or as a vulnerable prisoner. Events moved faster than the official reaction, and his increasingly bizarre and violent crises were met by short-term responses which included several moves of location and placements in observation cells with anti-ligature clothing. A Transfer Direction Order to a secure healthcare setting was considered but the necessary assessment did not take place in time.

A contemporary, independent assessment by a priest is informative: he said “His condition is beyond anything the officers can cope with.”

It is clear that Mr Lynch faked symptoms on some occasions and this led certain NIPS officers to believe he was being manipulative. This belief, which was also partly caused by insufficient awareness of his mental illness, impacted negatively upon his management and care.

The escalation in Mr Lynch’s self-destructive behaviour required treatment at outside hospitals. His conduct was so challenging that he had to be restrained and tranquilised, and he seriously assaulted a prison officer. He inflicted an 8cm cut to his groin, allegedly with a piece of broken flask which he found after moving into a new cell. However this cannot be confirmed as the implement was never sought nor found.

Much of Mr Lynch’s main self-harm episode – he rendered himself blind and extended his groin injury – on 5th June was directly observed by prison officers. Although they complied with a strict interpretation of Governor’s Orders which require intervention if a situation is “life-threatening,” Mr Lynch did not meet the definition. It seems remarkable that the officers felt it was neither necessary nor appropriate to enter his cell to prevent him from self-harming further. Their duty of care was trumped by security concerns that appear to have had little basis in reality.

We make 63 recommendations for improvement, of which 11 have previously been made to, and accepted by the NIPS. Five recommendations have previously been made to, and accepted by the SEHSCT.

Ombudsman Tom McGonigle said “This dreadful sequence of self-harming highlights the challenges of caring for severely mentally-ill people in prison. The key messages from this investigation are the need for someone to take prompt and effective control when a prisoner/patient’s mental health is deteriorating rapidly; and for improved assessment and information-sharing at the point when people go into prison.”

Media contact

McCann Public Relations, Telephone: 02890 666322
Maria McCann: 07802934246 or Natalie Mackin: 07974935855

Notes to editors

1. The Prisoner Ombudsman’s current Terms of Reference authorise the Office to investigate serious self-harm incidents in prison custody when requested to do so by the Northern Ireland Prison Service. For further information see

2. The Ombudsman aims to provide the facts of the case and publish all material that is necessary to serve the public interest. This is balanced against legal obligations in respect of data protection and privacy for everyone concerned, and their views are therefore taken into account when publication is being considered. Mr Lynch and his family indicated they are content for the full findings of this investigation to be published.

3. Mr Lynch has requested that media enquiries for him should be directed to his solicitor, Kevin Casey of Mc Cartney Casey Solicitors on 02871288888

Concern over Government lack of action on jail suicides

deaths-in-custodyThe author of a report into prison suicides has raised concern about the Government’s failure to take action on recommendations he published earlier this year.

Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey said he suspected an official response to his review was being held up by a “rearguard action” from figures within the Prison Service resisting change.

The review of self-inflicted deaths among prisoners aged 18-24 in England and Wales recommended new responsibilities for prison officers to take a direct interest in the progress of individual inmates, as well as early intervention to reduce numbers of young people being put behind bars.

Lord Harris told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that since he reported in July there had been “complete silence” on the part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on how its thinking was developing.

He complained that his planned appearance before a ministerial board on deaths in custody was cancelled at short notice last week and that he was told it was “not worth it” for him to meet Justice Secretary Michael Gove at this point.

He said Mr Gove had made “quite positive” hints about efforts to rehabilitate prisoners, but added: “What concerns me is that there is complete silence as to the way their thinking is developing.

“I just think there’s a lack of concern. I suspect there’s a rearguard action from the Prison Service, who find some of our findings really rather worrying, because it recognises that they simply don’t know what’s going on in prisons and that prisons at the moment are under enormous stress and presumably will get more so with the cuts that are just around the corner.”

Lord Harris said he did not believe his report had been “shelved” but added: “My concern is that we’ve already had 12 young people take their lives in prison so far this year, in just nine months. The number of suicides across the board has risen really quite dramatically in the last year or so, so action needs to be taken.

“Every month that we don’t take action we are wasting countless millions of having people in the prison system who don’t need to be there, failing to rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated and, what’s more, lives are at risk.”

The report found that there was a group of young people in prisons who could have been kept outside if measures had been taken to help them deal with mental health conditions and other problems in their lives, he said.

Lord Harris said: “I’ve met with Michael Gove shortly before the report was published. He listened intently, took notes and nodded repeatedly while I spoke to him. I’ve suggested that another meeting now would be helpful, given that his thinking will have developed over the summer, and I was told it really wasn’t worth it until thinking was further developed.

“I suspect that there are people in the Prison Service who think they’d rather be allowed to just get on with it. But getting on with it means the same things keep happening again and again. These cases over the last 10-12 years you see the same patterns repeating. People who call for help not being helped, people who shouldn’t have been there in the first place, or people where some simple sensible care could have been provided.”

The MoJ told Today that Lord Harris’s recommendations were under consideration and it remained the department’s intention to respond in the autumn.

Prisoner found dead in cell

Richard Walsh
Richard Walsh

A homeless man who was facing trial for the attempted murder of two schoolboys has been found dead in his prison cell.


Richard Walsh, 43, was accused of stabbing the two children, aged 12 and 13, in a street in Havant, Hampshire, last month.

He appeared in court last month and was remanded in custody to Belmarsh Prison in south east London.

Jail staff found Walsh unresponsive in his cell this morning. Staff and paramedics battled to save his life but he was pronounced dead.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “HMP Belmarsh prisoner Richard Walsh was found unresponsive in his cell on Sunday 19 July. Staff attempted CPR but paramedics pronounced him dead at 11.07am.

“As with all deaths in custody there will be an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.”

Walsh, who was also charged with assault and robbing a bicycle, had been due to appear at Portsmouth Crown Court tomorrow


Man kills himself awaiting verdict in £20m fraud trial

Peter Benstead
Peter Benstead


A businessman killed himself while on trial with members of his family for a £20 million fraud, it can be reported today.

Peter Benstead, 72, was found dead in a vehicle near his home in Cornwall on Sunday afternoon, hours after being reported missing.

Jurors at London’s Southwark Crown Court were only told of Benstead’s death today, in private, as they returned their verdicts in the three-month-long case – unaware the principal defendant had killed himself.

The seven men and five women had spent nearly two weeks considering Benstead’s alleged involvement in the Crown Currency Ltd fraud case when he died. He had not appeared in the dock at various times during the three-month trial due to existing health issues.

The media were banned from reporting Benstead’s apparent suicide until after the final verdicts were returned.

His Honour, Judge Michael Gledhill QC asked jurors not to return verdicts on the 10 counts on which Benstead was accused.

However, jurors did find Benstead’s widow Susan guilty of one count of money laundering – a joint charge with her late husband on which she could only be convicted if he was.

Their son Julian, and son-in-law Roderick Schmidt, were also convicted of offences relating to Crown Currency, along with employees Stephen Matthews and Edward James.

The widow was not in court when the verdicts were announced in two sessions, yesterday and today. The judge had told jurors “not to be worried” by the Bensteads’ absence.

Addressing the jury at the end of the trial – before going into chambers and informing them of Benstead’s death – the judge said: “I asked you to put him to one side. I will tell you why I have done that in a few moments’ time.”

Having told the jury about Benstead’s suicide, the judge said “one or two were quite deeply affected” by the news.

The court heard 12,500 customers were left out of pocket to the tune of nearly £20 million when the Cornish-based firm went under in October 2010.

Prosecutor Peter Grieves-Smith said Crown offered customers fiercely competitive offers on foreign currency, but ran into serious financial problems when their market speculating came up woefully short. It meant Crown was having to use new clients’ investments to settle existing debts.

The court heard the ailing firm was still accepting payment from customers, even when some staff knew the firm was insolvent – with little chance of clients getting their money back.

Yesterday four people were convicted of their part in the fraud. Susan Benstead, Julian Benstead, Schmidt and fellow Crown Currency Ltd employee Matthews were convicted of a range of offences after jurors spent 45 hours and 30 minutes deliberating.

Schmidt, Crown’s day-to-day manager, 46, of Penzance in Cornwall, was convicted of two counts of fraudulent trading. He was cleared of two counts of false accounting.

Crown’s former accountant Matthews, 52, of St Newlyn, was convicted of two counts of false accounting but cleared of two counts of fraudulent trading.

Julian Benstead, 46, of Penzance, who ran Crown’s sister company which specialised in trading cash for gold, was convicted of one count of fraudulent trading. He was cleared of the theft of 11.3kg of gold which went “missing” in the days leading up to Crown’s collapse – a count on which his father was also charged.

The precious metal has never been found.

Susan Benstead, 70, of Penzance, had no involvement in the day-to-day running of the businesses. She was convicted of one charge of money laundering – using £897,459 of customers’ money to buy a luxury home in Cornwall.

Former Crown director Edward James, the ex-mayor of Glastonbury in Somerset, was found not guilty of two counts of false accounting. He was convicted today of two counts of fraudulent trading relating to the days leading up to the collapse.

They will be sentenced at Southwark on June 12.


Canada allows assisted suicide


Canada’s highest court has unanimously struck down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide for mentally competent but suffering and “irremediable” patients.

The Supreme Court’s decision sweeps away the existing law and gives parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognises the right of consenting adults who are enduring intolerable suffering to seek medical help to end their lives.

The judgment said the current ban infringes on the life, liberty and security of individuals under Canada’s constitution. It had been illegal in Canada to counsel, aid or abet suicide, an offence carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

The decision reverses a ruling the Supreme Court made in 1993. At the time, the court was primarily concerned that vulnerable people could not be properly protected under physician-assisted suicide.

The court ruling said: “An individual’s response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy.”

The judgment added: “The law allows people in this situation to request palliative sedation, refuse artificial nutrition and hydration, or request the removal of life-sustaining medical equipment, but denies the right to request a physician’s assistance in dying.”

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Albania, Colombia, Japan and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana. Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Grace Pastine, litigation director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, welcomed the ruling, saying: “For seriously and incurably ill Canadians, the brave people who worked side by side with us for so many years on this case – this decision will mean everything to them.”

The pressure will now be on parliament to act in an election year, as the court said no exemptions can be granted for those seeking to end their lives during the 12-month suspension of the judgment.

The case was spurred by the families of two now-dead British Columbia women, supported by Ms Pastine’s organisation.

Gloria Taylor was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological illness, and Kay Carter was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal cord condition. At the age of 89, Ms Carter travelled to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is allowed.

Ms Taylor had won a constitutional exemption at a lower court for a medically assisted death in 2012, but that decision was overturned in subsequent appeals. She died of an infection later the same year.

It has been more than 20 years since the case of another patient with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Sue Rodriguez, gripped Canada as she fought for the right to assisted suicide. She lost her appeal but took her own life in 1994, at the age of 44, with the help of an anonymous doctor.

Bronzefield Death Inquest Starts Tomorrow

HMP Bronzefield Women's Prison
HMP Bronzefield Women’s Prison


Tuesday 19 November 2013 at 10 am
Before HM Coroner for Surrey Richard Travers
Sitting at Coroner’s Court, Civic Offices, Gloucester Square, Woking, Surrey GU21 6YL

Helen Waight was 33 years old and had five young children when she died at HMP Bronzefield on 7 March 2011.  Her death was the second of two young women’s deaths at this institution within just 10 months of each other.  Both deaths raise serious concerns about the provision of healthcare and the treatment and management of drug dependency at HMP Bronzefield, a private prison run by Sodexo. 

Helen’s family hope the inquest will address the following issues:

  • ·        The adequacy of the tests carried out prior to the commencement of the detoxification regime and the quality of record keeping;
  • ·        The treatment and management of Helen’s drug dependency at HMP Bronzefield and the level of training of GPs working at the prison;
  • ·        The local policies in place at HMP Bronzefield in relation to drug dependency management;
  • ·        The response of healthcare and discipline staff to reports of Helen’s ill health on the morning of 7 March 2011, including the decision to dispense Helen methadone on 7 March 2011 when she was unwell;
  • ·        The emergency response on 7 March 2011.

 Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

This second death of a young mother in Bronzefield prison is a tragic reminder of the urgent need for a new approach to the treatment of women in conflict with the law. While the inquest should provide some answers for her family, it cannot address fundamental failings in the justice system for women. Rather than send her to prison which is expensive, damaging and dangerous, it should have been possible to address the reasons behind her offending through community based alternatives.”

Helen’s family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jasmine Chadha and Megan Phillips of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Alison Gerry of Doughty Street Chambers.


Notes to editors:

1.  Helen Waight’s death is included as a case study in INQUEST’s report ‘Preventing the deaths of women in prison: the need for an alternative approach’ published earlier this year.

2.  Helen Waight was the second woman to die at HMP Bronzefield in a ten month period. The inquest into the death of Sarah Higgins, the first woman to die, concluded recently, with a jury finding serious failings by the prison had contributed to her death.

For further information, please contact Hannah Ward, INQUEST Communications Manager on 020 7263 1111 / 07972 492 230 or

INQUEST provides a general telephone advice, support and information service to any bereaved person facing an inquest and a free, in-depth complex casework service on deaths in custody/state detention or involving state agents and works on other cases that also engage article 2 of the ECHR and/or raise wider issues of state and corporate accountability. INQUEST’s policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths occurring.

Please refer to INQUEST the organisation in all capital letters in order to distinguish it from the legal hearing.



The inquest into the death of Paul Murphy is due to commence on Monday 14th May 2012, at Lincoln Crown Court, The Castle, Castle Hill, Lincoln LN1 3GA, before HM Coroner for Lincoln, Stuart Fisher.

Paul was 39 years old when he died on 13 June 2008 after being found hanging in his cell at HMP Lincoln.  He had been moved to the Vulnerable Prisoners Wing as he had got into debt with other prisoners and feared reprisals. On 12 June he was made subject to his third ACCT document after expressing further fears of harm from others, displaying paranoid behaviour and threatening to cut his wrists. Overnight he was subject to minimal checks and not placed in a safer cell.

Paul’s family hope that the inquest will explore the quality of the care he received on 12/13 June, and any possible links with a prison officer suspended the following month, and ultimately dismissed, for trafficking drugs and mobile phones within the prison.

The inquest is scheduled to last for two weeks.



A firearms officer killed himself after he became “obsessed” that his policewoman lover was seeing another policeman, an inquest heard today.

Pc Nick Corless, 36, was found with a gunshot wound to his head in a grey Volkswagen Golf car parked in Brynn Street, St Helens, Merseyside, in February last year.

An inquest heard that the policeman, who worked at Manchester Airport for Greater Manchester Police (GMP), killed himself because he feared losing his job after assaulting his lover, Anne Marie Greenall, who also worked for GMP.

Pc Corless left behind his widow Lisa and son, who was one at the time of his death.

According to the Whiston coroner, Dr Christopher Sumner, Pc Corless had grown suspicious that his lover was seeing another police officer called Lee Entwistle.

This suspicion had led to several episodes of violence during the weekend of his death.

Before recording a verdict of suicide, Mr Sumner said: “At the time of his death Mr Corless seemed besotted and obsessed with the thought that she (Anne Marie) was having a relationship with another man.

“There is certainly no doubt in my mind that he was carrying out an extramarital relationship with Anne Marie Greenall.

“On the weekend of the February 25, 26 and 27 last year there was an incident in which Nick Corless assaulted Anne Marie.

“In my mind, he thought that at best he would be referred to Greater Manchester Police’s professional standards branch, and at worst he would face charges and imprisonment.

“Prison is not the best of places at any time, but it is certainly not an easy place for a police officer.”

“It is clear that he intended to take his own life and therefore I can only record one verdict and that is suicide,” he added.

The inquest heard that Pc Corless, a former soldier, and Pc Greenall had first started a relationship when they were posted with Merseyside Police at St Helens in 1999.

Detective Sergeant Eion Turner of Merseyside Police told the inquest that the relationship ended when Pc Corless went to London to join the Metropolitan Police, and there was no further contact between them until March 2010.

Although Pc Greenall had got married in 2008, the “spark” between her and Pc Corless was rekindled.

Pc Greenall told her husband she had been seeing Pc Corless in July 2010 and left him in August, he said.

A week before he died, Pc Corless also left his wife after spending his first Christmas with his then one-year-old son.

But throughout 2010 and into 2011, Pc Corless had grown increasingly jealous of another officer named Lee Entwistle, whom Pc Greenall had met at a murder scene in May 2009.

On the Friday before his death, Pc Corless and Pc Greenall returned from having drinks.

Pc Corless started stroking Pc Greenall, but she said she felt sick and did not want to have sex.

He said she described how Pc Corless “just lost it” and told her she would not reject Pc Entwistle, before straddling her and punching her in the face. The incident was not reported.

The following day, Pc Greenall went to her father’s address and told him what had happened.

Some 50 minutes later a fight broke out on the doorstep between her father and Pc Corless.

Police were called and when they arrived they saw bruises on Pc Greenall’s face and jaw from the previous night’s assault.

Facing an investigation from Merseyside Police and a professional standards investigation by Greater Manchester Police over the matter, the following day Pc Corless killed himself outside Pc Greenall’s home with a Beretta shotgun.

Inside the car, officers found a letter in which Pc Corless told Pc Greenall how sorry he was for attacking her although he could not remember what had happened, he said.

He also said he believed she was seeing someone, Lee, behind his back and his heart was broken.

He wrote: “I will be waiting for you in another life. I’m going to lose my job and go toprison. This is the only way I can go’.”

A statement by Pc Corless’s family was read out at the inquest describing him as a “loving family man who loved his job as a police officer, which was something he always wanted to do”.

His widow Lisa also described him as a “loving” man and his commanding officer, Superintendent David Hull, talked of “an extremely well liked and respected colleague”.


Exercise yard at Pentonville Prison, north London

A prisoner has been found dead at HMP Pentonville, a PrisonService spokesman said.

Noah Smith, 49, was discovered hanged in his cell at 2.45am yesterday – Sunday 4th March 2012.

The spokesman said; “Staff attempted resuscitation and paramedics attended, but he was pronounced dead at the scene at approximately 3.30am.

“The police, coroner and next of kin have been informed.

“As with all deaths in custody the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will conduct an investigation.”