Inquest opens into death of Sarah Reed, found dead in her cell after an acute mental health crisis

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Sarah Reed, 32, died on 11 January 2016 while in the custody of HMP Holloway. Sarah had been remanded to HMP Holloway on 14 October 2015 following an alleged assault which took place whilst she was a sectioned patient at a mental health unit. The family is represented by Irene Nembhard of Birnberg Peirce and Sean Horstead of Garden Court Chambers at the inquest.

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Sarah had been suffering from serious mental ill health since the death of her six-month-old baby in 2003. She suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, emotional unstable personality disorder and an eating disorder. She spent many years in and out of mental health institutions and prisons. The times when she was not in institutions, she totally relied on her family for support, who desperately tried to get the right help for her but felt that she was constantly being failed by the system.

In 2012, Sarah was assaulted by a police officer James Kiddie. That experience aggravated her mental health issues.

The inquest into her death will seek to explore the following issues:

  • Her medication and issues around why they were altered and stopped
  • The use of segregation and punishment for her behaviour
  • Suicide and self-harm risk assessments
  • Delay in obtaining fitness to plead assessments and lack of transfer to a mental health unit
  • Issues around family contact
  • Mechanisms and circumstances of her death

The family of Sarah Reed said:

''We are looking forward to this inquest taking place. Sarah was adored and loved by the whole family and her death has been devastating for us. Before she was remanded, she had started to turn her life around.  She was in a good relationship, she finally had housing and she was more settled. The one thing I am sure about is she died unexpectedly. We are hoping to get to the bottom of what caused her death and we are also asking for the general public to support us."

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said:

“Sarah Reed was an extremely vulnerable black woman with a long history of mental ill health. She was one of 22 women who died in women’s prisons in 2016, three of whom were women of colour. Twelve of these deaths were classified as self-inflicted, representing an eleven year high. The fundamental question in this case, like so many more before it is: why was Sarah ever sent to prison in the first place? The state’s responsibility for deaths goes beyond the prison walls and extends to failures in mental health and substance abuse provision, sentencing policies and the failure to implement the Corston report and invest in alternatives to custody.”

INQUEST have been working with the family of Sarah Reed since her death. The family is represented by Irene Nembhard of Birnberg Peirce and Sean Horstead of Garden Court Chambers. Sean is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Inquests and Inquiries Team.

The inquest will take place at the City of London Coroner's Court before HM Assistant Coroner Peter Thornton QC. The inquest opens on 4 July 2017 and is expected to run for 2-3 weeks. Note: Those who would like to attend have been asked to bring a photo ID with them.

The original INQUEST press release is available on their website.

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