Inquest finds inadequacies in prison’s mental health services

Belmarsh prison complex where Douglas hung himself. Pic Anders Sandberg

Belmarsh prison complex where Douglas hung himself. Pic Anders Sandberg

Serious failures by the official bodies involved in the care of a potentially suicidal 18-year-old from Tower Hamlets, who killed himself at Belmarsh prison, have been highlighted in a damming verdict by an inquest jury.

Imran Douglas was the first 18-year-old inmate at Belmarsh prison, convicted in November 2013 for the murder of 88-year-old Margery Gilby at her home in Shadwell, Tower Hamlets in May that year. He hanged himself in his cell just five days into his sentence.

The previously unreported 17-page long narrative verdict delivered by the inquest jury last week, contains a series of  criticisms of the Prison Service, the Youth Justice Board and Tower Hamlets Youth Offending Team. The verdict was delivered at the end of three weeks of evidence and four days of deliberation.

The jury recorded a host of failures, including a systematic failure to act upon Douglas’s history of suicidal thoughts and repeated failures by prison and healthcare staff at Belmarsh to start suicide preventative procedures. The verdict accuses prison service staff of a  “serious and unacceptable inadequacy in communication”

Many of the prison staff that gave evidence at the inquest said they had no training in dealing with youngsters.

Despite Douglas writing a letter to the judge containing a “direct threat to kill himself” and a warning on his self risk form, Douglas was sent to Belmarsh after staff missed a note on his paperwork. He was meant to return to HMP Feltham – a youth offenders’ institute.

Additionally an Assessment, Care in Custody & Teamwork plan (ACCT) was never opened, which would have alerted prison officers to his vulnerability and ensured routine checks.

Imran Douglas. Pic Met Police

Imran Douglas. Pic Met Police

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson told ELL: “This was a complex case involving several different agencies and, because Imran turned 18 during this period, included a transition from a young offenders’ institution to an adult prison. We have already implemented lessons learned from this case to ensure the issues raised have been addressed.”

Criminal lawyer, Greg Foxsmith, who has taken a keen interest in the case from the start and attended to wake of Douglas, wrote on his blog following the suicide: “Perhaps our collective conscience should be pricked just sufficiently to remind ourselves that he was still a teenager, that he was in the institutionalised care of the State, and that by allowing him to hang himself he was failed by the State.”

The inquest follows annual statistics from the Ministry of Justice showing the highest number of suicides in prisons since 2007, with 80 deaths recorded last year.

Following his death, Douglas’ mother said ‘I am heartbroken. It was hard enough coming to terms with the fact that he had committed a serious crime, and had such a long sentence, but now he is gone forever. How is it that the prison service can let this happen?’

“Mental health support for young people in prison is often inadequate. Too many young people are not identified as being at risk of suicide,” said The Howard League, a charity for prison reform.

“The warning signs, that a young person is in distress are overlooked or dealt with as a disciplinary matter, rather than a sign that specialist individualised help is required.”




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