Cambridge Coroner says alert system access poses risk of future deaths following inquest into the death of Lewis Powter

Thursday 21 July 2022

The inquest into the death of Lewis Powter was heard at Cambridge and Peterborough Coroner’s Court, Huntingdon from 18 to 19 July 2022. 

Lewis Powter's mother, Leah Biamonti, was represented before the Coroner by Stephen Clark of Garden Court Chambers and Jane Ryan of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.

Share This Page

Email This Page

The below media release is reshared from Bhatt Murphy solicitors. 

Lewis Powter, 36, died of a heroin overdose at his flat in Sawston, Cambridgeshire, on 10 May 2020. When he was 23 years old, Lewis was given an indefinite sentence for public protection for GBH; his minimum term was set at just two years. Despite his tariff expiring in 2009, Lewis was not released until 2011. He was released and then recalled five times prior to his death.

Lewis had epilepsy and complex mental health needs, including EUPD, PTSD, substance misuse and anxiety. In prison, he was assessed as high risk of death by misadventure. On 18 January 2017, Lewis was assaulted by three Sodexo officers at HMP Peterborough. Those officers were subject to disciplinary proceedings leading to the dismissal of one officer, another officer receiving a final warning and a third officer receiving a warning. Since the assault Lewis experienced PTSD symptoms including hypervigilance.

In June 2019, Lewis was recalled after being out in the community for four days following being late back for his curfew due to cancelled public transport. The National Probation Service in a report stated that the recall was “inappropriate” but despite this Lewis was not released until November 2019. Upon his release, he experienced extreme anxiety and fear about being recalled to prison.

In 2008, HM Prisons published a thematic report into IPP sentences which highlighted the impact of serving an IPP sentence on prisoners’ emotional and mental health, including self-harm. In 2008 the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health also published a report which highlighted the negative impact that serving an indeterminate sentence had on prisoners’ mental health and wellbeing. In 2012 the IPP sentence was abolished; but for those IPP prisoners like Lewis, there was no change to their sentence.

Leah Biamonti, Lewis's mother, said:

"The IPP sentence my son was serving at the time of his death was insufferable both for him but also the family who supported him, taking a great toll. His two children, growing up without him, were confused by his multiple recalls to prison. Although released from prison for the first time in 2011, it felt as if it was just the beginning, never given the opportunity to adjust to anything that could be recognised as a semblance of a ‘normal’ life, before being recalled for rule-breaking, to start the protracted cycle again of working towards another potential release.

Each release characterised by a lack of practical support and, in my view, especially with early releases, a lack of understanding of the extent to which the IPP sentence impacted on the mental and emotional health of individuals, extreme feelings of uncertainty, hopelessness, depression, and as we know now high rates of suicide in the IPP population, and in my son's case extreme and immobilising anxiety."

"In our experience there are insufficient support systems in place to support those with complex needs as a result of, or exacerbated by an IPP sentence, relying heavily on family to help rebuild a future in the community. Although it no longer exists, the IPP sentence remains in place for many who are utterly stuck within a sick and broken system. Release from prison is not the end, it is a time when knowledge and understanding of the impact of this inhumane sentence matters, and when the most intensive support is needed to aid both practical and psychological readjustment to life outside prison and to support the prevention of what is currently an almost inevitable recall to prison."

On 4 May 2020 Lewis Powter was told he had been reported for a common assault and would face court proceedings which also impacted his fear of prison recall, the coroner said.

Lorna Skinner, assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire, said Mr Powter suffered from increased anxiety about being recalled to prison at any time.

She said: "In relation to the IPP sentence, I am in no doubt that the effect of it on him was profound."

"He faced the constant stress and anxiety of recall to prison which was hanging over him indefinitely in circumstances where, due to his own mental health difficulties, his resilience and ability to cope with the pressures upon him was inevitably compromised."

Ms Skinner said she was concerned about a risk of future deaths because not all agencies involved in Mr Powter's care after his release in November 2019 were able to access the same systems. 

Mr Powter was being supported by the probation service, mental health services run by Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) and the charity Change Grow Live. 

Both the probation service and CPFT had access to a system where they could alert each other to potential concerns but the charity, who had increased his risk level, did not have access to the system. Ms Skinner said: "I have a concern where some agencies have access to a shared communication facility but others don't, that generates an obvious risk of information being missed or overlooked.

She said this concern was related to offenders who, like Mr Powter, were on a pathway that involved less "interactive multi-agency communication" and she would write a prevention of future deaths report.

Mr Powter's aunt, Gianna Biamonti-Bellow, said: "We are pleased with the outcome, the inquest and the fact the coroner recognised the impact of the IPP as much as she could within her role. We believe as a family that as a direct consequence of the IPP it led to his death."

"IPPs can make people feel very hopeless... if this can help get better care for other people on IPPs that's what we wish for, it's important to us as a family".

Related Areas of Law

We are top ranked by independent legal directories and consistently win awards.

+ View more awards