Bullying at Shropshire prison creates risk of future deaths, coroner warns
A culture of bullying at HMP Stoke Heath is putting prisoners at risk, according to the senior coroner for the region who has issued a report outlining his concerns.
A Prevention of Future Deaths report by Senior Coroner for Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin, John Ellery, has been sent to the prison. In the report, the coroner gives the prison until 17 June to respond to his concerns by outlining what action it has taken or will take, along with a timetable.
The report follows the inquest last week into the death of 44-year old Derrick Rose-Fowler who was found hanging in his cell at the prison on 5 June 2015.
The five-day jury inquest heard evidence that bullying at Stoke Heath was “rife”, that prisoners were taking advantage of inadequate staffing and prison officers responsible for implementing Safer Custody policies had incorrectly concluded that they could not act without a bully being explicitly named by a victim.
Mr Rose-Fowler had repeatedly voiced concerns for his safety at the prison, most recently in a letter to the governor on 20 April 2015. “The problems have not gone away and I am looking over my shoulder all the time,” he wrote. An “intelligence report” logged by the prison in March 2015 reporting his concerns wasn’t acted upon and no support was offered.
The jury heard evidence that Mr Rose-Fowler, a prisoner with a history of self-harm and diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder, missed mental health and GP appointments throughout 2015 because he feared leaving the wing.
The deceased’s mother, Ms Adeline Rose, gave evidence at the inquest that her son had begged her to make two payments to individuals outside the prison. “I heard someone else in the background and I got the impression he was under duress,” she said.
In the report, the coroner said: “The prison has a Tackling Bullying Behaviour policy but there is concern as to how effective it was implemented.” Although the jury did not identify a probable connection between the bullying and the death, the coroner concluded: “In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths.”
He also raised concern over the first aid training of prison officers at the prison. The inquest heard that the first prison officer on the scene was not first aid trained. In hanging cases, time is of the essence for CPR and if there is any significant delay by reason of the first attending Officer not being First Aid trained then there is a risk of future deaths occurring.
The jury concluded that Mr Rose-Fowler died by hanging but that he did not have the intent to take his own life.
The family of Mr Rose-Fowler were represented at the inquest by Taimour Lay (counsel, Garden Court Chambers) and Lucy Cadd, a solicitor in the civil liberties team at London law firm, Hodge Jones & Allen, who says: “Derrick’s family are extremely concerned that HMP Stoke Heath have not learned the appropriate lessons from his death. We heard evidence at the inquest that inmates were taking it upon themselves to police their own wings, with disastrous effects, because there were not enough prison staff to otherwise secure a safe and drug-free environment.
“Despite such a significant rise in suicides in prisons over the last few years, we are very concerned that the government is not doing more to alleviate the resource issues that the prison system is currently facing.”
Derrick’s mother, Mrs Adeline Rose says: “Despite the criticisms made of the prison following an inspection by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons in April 2015, my son died just two months later. He was being bullied but none of the staff listened to his pleas or cries for help. It is our view that his death could have been avoided had he received the proper support.”
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