Prison managers are criticised for failing two suicide prisoners

The Oxford Times: Paul Robertson Paul Robertson

PRISON authorities have been criticised after two men hanged themselves in their cells only months apart.

The unlinked suicides of two Bullingdon inmates were examined at Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court this week.

The mother of prisoner Paul Roberston, who hanged himself last year, said prison bosses did not act on a previous warning about her son’s mental health.

Cheryl Roberston, 50, told a hearing on Wednesday: “Before Paul went to Bullingdon, there were concerns about his mental health, but it was never followed up in Bullingdon.

“To me, it seems that nobody is communicating in the prisons.”

Mr Robertson, of Gosport, was found hanged in his cell in the segregation unit of the prison in August 2013. He was due to be released the next month after serving a 15-month sentence for criminal damage and affray, and he died only four weeks before the eighth birthday of his son, Leland Farrer.

The court heard that in January last year, solicitor Kate Rowe had written in a self-harm form that she was worried Mr Roberston might be at risk of suicide or self-harm.

Amanda Corr, manager of Virgin Care, which runs health care at the prison, told the court: “Sadly, his actions could not have been predicted.”

But Mr Robertson’s partner, Kristie Farrer, 25, of Andover, mother of Leland, told the Oxford Mail outside court: “Either way, they [prison authorities] failed him, no matter what they have done.”

The coroner instructed the jury that since there was no evidence of systemic failures at Bullingdon Prison, “you’re not required to go further to deal with those aspects”.

The jury concluded: “Paul James Robertson intentionally took his own life by hanging in cell 210 of the SSCU [segregation unit] of Bullingdon Prison. He did this at some time between 12 and 12.30[pm].”

At a separate inquest on Monday, the court heard how prisoner Marcin Stoga, 27, was found hanged in his cell, on April 24 last year.

He had been remanded in custody after being charged in November 2012 with the attem-pted rape of a woman in Slough and was awaiting trial.

The court heard Mr Stoga filed a report when entering the jail, saying he had previously taken a prescription drug overdose.

A report by investigating officer Det Supt Matt Bick called it a “missed opportunity” for early intervention, but said it was unknown if this would have prevented his death.

The jury of 10 added: “In addition we conclude that there have been missed opportunities to support this prisoner (some of a systemic nature), which on the balance of probability, materially contributed to his death.”

A Prison Service spokesman said: "We are committed to reducing the numbers of self-inflicted deaths in custody and will consider the findings of the inquest to see what lessons can be learned, in addition to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman's investigation."

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will investigate whether Mr Stoga received sufficient healthcare and will publish its report within the next week. The jury recorded a narrative verdict of suicide.

The latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice revealed there were 74 male self-inflicted deaths in the UK in 2013, including the two in Bullingdon. Out of 26 deaths in the prison between 2003 and 2013, 12 were self-inflicted.

Mark Winstanley, of charity Rethink Mental Illness, said the suicide rate in prisons was almost 15 times higher than the general population.

But he said: “But all too often, people in prison with mental health problems do not get access to even the most basic treatment.

“These are extremely sad cases and reflect wider problems with the way mental health problems are dealt with across the prison and criminal justice system.

“If someone is not ill enough to be in hospital, they still need to receive specialist care in prison, but too often this isn’t happening and lives are being lost.”

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