Jury finds prison failings at HMP Doncaster were causative of the death of vulnerable prisoner Gerard Scahill

Thursday 19 October 2017

The family is represented by Ifeanyi Odogwu of Garden Court Chambers instructed by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jenny Fraser and Leanne Devine from Broudie Jackson Canter Solicitors.

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Following a 5 day inquest at Doncaster Coroner’s Court, a jury found that the failures of Serco and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust to deal with bullying, violence and substance abuse at HMP Doncaster were causative of the death of 43 year old Gerard Scahill on 22 April 2016.

Gerry was a vulnerable man with a long history of mental health issues and substance abuse, who was serving a 9 year sentence at HMP Doncaster.

On his entry to HMP Doncaster in October 2015, prison and healthcare staff were made aware of threats to Gerry by prison gangs, and during his stay became aware of his use of ‘spice’ and his history of mental health issues.

During his stay, Gerry made sure to raise concerns about his welfare to prison staff. On 3 occasions, in the period leading to his death, he reported to the prison staff that he was under threat and scared for his safety. On one occasion, he had to be returned to his wing under prison escort and he subsequently refused to leave his cell for two days. Notwithstanding his reports, there was no record that prison staff conducted any investigation, or put in place any safeguards for Gerry.

The jury heard new psychoactive substances (NPS) known as ‘spice’ is currently rife in prison. Studies suggest that ‘spice’ and other NPS’ exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and can lead to self-harm, and debt. On 23 March 2016 staff found Gerry under the influence of ‘spice’. He also reported to healthcare staff that he was taking NPS on most days, and as much as he could “get hold of”. Despite this, he was never referred to the substance misuse team, who were able to offer psychotherapy treatment for NPS use.

On 22 April 2016, Gerry was found hanged in his cell. Though both Prison Officers and paramedics attempted to revive him they were unsuccessful.

In a narrative conclusion critical of the prison, the jury found, that:

  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust did not adequately and effectively manage Gerry’s use of ‘spice’ and this was causative of his death.
  • Serco prison staff did not adequately and effectively manage the threats and bullying that Gerry reported, and this was also causative of death.
  • Non causative failures regarding training on the unlock procedure.

The jury could not be certain that Gerry intended to kill himself.

Gerry’s family are understandably devastated by his death but are pleased that the jury identified the failings that led to Gerry’s death. They hope that HMP Doncaster, private prison providers and contractors, and the wide prison service will now implement changes to ensure that incidents like this are not repeated.

Jenny Fraser, solicitor for the family, said:
“Sadly this is yet another death at a private prison, and it’s welcome that the jury have clearly identified the significant failings of both Serco and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust towards the people in their custody”.

Ifeanyi Odogwu is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Civil Liberties and Inquests teams.

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