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Father of four dies after catalogue of errors and neglect by prison staff

Posted on: 15th February 2019

A father-of-four was found hanging in prison after a catalogue of failures and neglect by jail staff, an inquest heard.

Sean McCann, 32, who had a history of mental ill health, tried to take his own life twice and repeatedly said he wanted to kill himself in the weeks before his death. Despite this he was placed in a cell with a broken light fitting which made a ‘ligature point’.

He was found hanging in the cell in HMP Peterborough, a privately run prison operated by Sodexo, on March 13, 2016.

In a damning verdict the jury said staff failed to properly assess his mental health, officers were not sufficiently trained and staff failed to take the cell with the ‘ligature point’ out of use.

The inquest also heard that there was a delay in entering his cell which contributed to his death. They ruled that his death was an ‘accident’ contributed to by neglect.

Following the two week inquest at Huntingdon Coroner’s Court, Cambs, Sean’s family released this statement: “This verdict won’t bring Sean back, but we hope that some good can come from his death. We hope that Peterborough prison will learn from their mistakes, and make urgent changes to how the prison is run, so that more lives aren’t wasted and other families can be spared the pain we have been through.

“Despite Sean’s difficulties in life he was a loving son, brother and father. He was the life and soul of our family and we miss him dearly.”

Cormac McDonough, a specialist civil liberties and human rights solicitor from Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents the family, said: “The jury have delivered a truly damning verdict which criticises almost every aspect of the care that staff at Peterborough provided to Sean.

“It was clear throughout the inquest that Peterborough is a prison in desperate need of reform. The prison is badly managed, with woefully inadequate systems for the safeguarding of vulnerable prisoners, too few staff and poor levels of staff training and supervision.

“Sean’s death is just another example of why the private sector has no place in the prison system, where cost savings and profit come before the rehabilitation and wellbeing of prisoners. An urgent shake-up is needed before more lives are lost in the name of profit.”

The family were represented at the inquest by Stephen Simblet of Garden Court Chambers.

Sean, who was from Aylesbury, Bucks, was sentenced to two years for assault and other offences in August 2015. He was moved from HMP Chelmsford to HMP Peterborough in January 2016.

On February 4, 2016, he failed to attend a scheduled mental health appointment and on February 29 he tied a ligature around the landing bars and tried to jump from the landing.

On 10 March 10, 2016 Sean was found with a ligature round his neck again. He was initially unresponsive but regained consciousness quickly.

On the afternoon of March 13, Sean informed staff several times that he wanted to kill himself. On the same day an officer spotted that the sealant around a light fitting had been pulled away in cell 2 of the segregation unit, but failed to tell other staff or to take steps to put the cell out of use.

Sean was moved into this cell and the last time he was seen alive was 6.25pm. By 6.50pm he had covered the observation panel in his cell door and did not respond to officers when they attempted to communicate with him. No alarm was raised by officers in response to this.

At 7.06pm officers entered his cell and found him unresponsive, hanging from the broken light fitting.

Natasha Thompson, caseworker at INQUEST said: “The failings identified at this inquest are strikingly familiar. All the warning signs were there, yet the prison neglected Sean when he was most in need of care. How many more deaths will it take before the Government and prison service face up to their duties regarding the health, safety and welfare of prisoners?

Sean’s family are one of many asking for urgent change to ensure no more lives are at risk. Prisons are harmful environments and distress is further heightened for those with histories of mental ill health. It is time for bold and decisive action to stem the rising toll of deaths in prisons across England and Wales. It is time to tackle sentencing policy, reduce the prison population and redirect resources to community services to prevent future deaths.”

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