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Inquest into death of Sean Plumstead exposes Carillion contract failure

13 February 2018

Taimour Lay

The Ministry of Justice allowed Carillion staff to work in prisons without mandatory suicide prevention training – and replies to a Coroner’s “Prevention of Future Deaths” report have now confirmed that government contracts were silent on the national policy.

In response to the revelations, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Richard Burgon, urgently wrote to David Gauke on Monday “raising serious questions about Suicide and Self-Harm prevention training for all contracted-out staff currently working in our prisons”, demanding answers over how many privately-contracted staff are still working in prisons nationwide without the training and seeking a review of existing contracts.

An inquest jury concluded in October 2017 that HMP Winchester’s failure to instigate appropriate self-harm support measures contributed to the death of 27-year-old Sean Plumstead. The Senior Coroner for Winchester said the case “highlighted matters of concern relating to Carillion’s past and present operations at HMP Winchester and possibly at other establishments nationally.”

He expressed concern about a “gap in training which Carillion is either unaware of or unconcerned with”, and “apparent ambiguities” in its contracts with the Ministry of Justice that “could compromise the safety of prisoners that Carillion personnel are dealing with”.

In response, Carillion’s prison operations director wrote to the Coroner to say they were “unaware” their staff had to have the training and that the contracts they had signed did not require it. “Having carefully reviewed our contracts with HMPPS… there is in fact no contractual requirement upon Carillion and its staff to undergo SASH [Suicide and Self-Harm] training, either as a business requirement, key deliverable or at all.”

A subsequent letter by Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the Prison and Probation Service, on 9 January 2018, admitted that “the requirement for prisoner-facing staff to undertake suicide and self-harm prevention training was not specifically brought to the attention of Carillion when their contract began”.

Spurr said a Service Manager’s Instruction would need to be issued “to ensure that Carillion, and our other contractors, are made aware of the requirement and their contractual obligation to comply with it”.

Carillion, which collapsed in January 2018, and Amey, another ‘facilities management’ company, each won £200m contracts in 2015 to provide a range of services in prisons including maintenance, cleaning and management of prison stores. 

A Corporate Watch investigation has found there were approximately 2,000 outsourced staff working in prisons at the time of Carillion’s demise – supplied equally by them and Amey. Many of them worked with prisoners: the Ministry of Justice told Corporate Watch around 15%, though the GMB union said the figure is more likely around two thirds.

Under national policy, all prisoner-facing staff are required to be trained in suicide and self-harm reduction, including the opening of support documents.

Taimour Lay represented Sean Plumstead’s family at the inquest into his death, instructed by Claire Hilder of Hodge Jones & Allen. Taimour is a member of the Garden Court Civil Liberties and Human Rights and Inquest teams.

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