Family sue NHS over death of Croydon gingerbread man thief

London Riots Pic: George Rex

James Best was awaiting sentence when he suffered a heart attack.
Pic: George Rex

The family of a Croydon man who died in prison after stealing a gingerbread man from a looted bakery during the London riots is suing two NHS trusts for breaching his human rights.

James Best, 37, was detained at Wandsworth Prison  in September 2011 and awaiting sentence, when he suffered a fatal heart attack, the High Court heard.

Dolly Daniel, who adopted Best when he was 15, and her son, Owen, have accused St George’s Healthcare and The London Ambulance service of breaching Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention of Human rights.

Daniel said she had taken the case to court because both trusts had refused to apologise for their mistreatment and mismanagement of Best in light of his heart attack.

She said: “For a decade of my life I worked as an NHS complaints manager. A lot of my work was with bereaved families and we always treated them better than we have been treated.”

The family’s barrister, Kirsten Sjovoll, told Mrs Justice Lang: “A prisoner who is detained by the state has had the opportunity to care for themselves removed.”

“Mr Best was vulnerable. He was detained by the state, which had therefore assumed responsibility for his care.”

Article 2 of the ECHR states: “No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of crime which this penalty is provided by law.”

Best collapsed on September 8, 2011, after taking part a gruelling gym session, the court heard.

A nurse was called to his cell at 4:19pm but did not call for an ambulance until 4:32pm. The subsequent 999 call lasted another 13 minutes as the London Ambulance Service initially failed to prioritise it as urgent.

The paramedics arrived at Wandsworth 30 minutes after the prison nurse was first notified of Best’s collapse.

Sjovoll said: “Within one or two minutes at most an ambulance should have been called.” She claimed that an earlier intervention and a quicker response might have had “a real prospect” of altering the outcome of Mr Best.

Owen Daniel, Best’s foster brother, said: “We are really looking for an apology for the shocking shortcomings that were highlighted at the inquest.”

“We are not looking to change the world or make loads of money. We are just looking for a bit of respect for James.”

Nancy Collins, a solicitor for the family said: “James’s family have been completely devastated by his death and the last four years have been an extremely difficult time for them.”

“His family hope that the trial will assist in the recognition of the failures that prevented James from receiving the appropriate care in breach of his human rights.”

The trial, which is only concerned with the contested issue of liability, is expected to last five days with a decision reserved to a later date.

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