Jury highlight serious failings in inquest verdict on the death of vulnerable 18-year-old asylum seeker from Darfur at HMP Chelmsford

Tuesday 8 June 2010

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A jury hearing evidence at Chelmsford Coroners Court, Essex, returned a verdict on 1 June 2010 highlighting serious failings by HMP Chelmsford and Essex Social Services which contributed to the death of 18-year-old Abdullah Hagar Idris (also known as Joker).

The jury found that Joker killed himself and that the following were contributing factors:
(1) the failure of HMP Chelmsford to have a formal and managed system for the delivery of deportation documents to prisoners in place in December 2007, and
(2) the failure by Essex Social Services to provide assessed care and support to the deceased after his eighteenth birthday.

Mr Idris was found hanging in his cell on Christmas day 2007. The day before he died Mr Idris had been given a notice of intention to hold him in custody at the end of his sentence, pending deportation back to Sudan. Mr Idris had previously thought that he was going to be released on 7 January, having served six months in prison for his first offence. He was handed the deportation notice by a prison officer who had no training in immigration matters and it is clear that Mr Idris, whose command of the English language was limited, was confused, angry and upset after receiving the notice. A fellow prisoner reported that he had told him he would rather die here than face death in Sudan. In fact, as evidence from the Immigration Service made clear, Mr Idris would have had a right of appeal and a chance to apply for bail. The Home Office currently have a policy not to deport Darfuri nationals because of the ongoing genocidal conflict there.

The jury heard evidence that Mr Idris was an asylum seeker from Darfur, having fled the conflict after Sudanese government forces and Janjaweed militia invaded his village. He arrived in the UK aged 15 and was referred to Essex Social Services, who provided accommodation and care for him, having identified him as an un-accompanied minor. Mr Idris was subsequently granted discretionary leave to remain until just before his 18th birthday and had an outstanding asylum application awaiting consideration. Joker ended up in custody on remand and was effectively abandoned for six months while he was in custody, receiving no letters or visitors. Evidence was heard at the inquest that Essex Social Services had failed to conduct a needs assessment of Joker as required by the Children Act 1989, and further they failed to provide him with leaving care support once he reached the age of 18, despite being required to do so under the Children Act. Had Essex Social Services complied with their statutory duties, Joker would have been provided with coordinated care and support both before and after entering custody including a pathway (care) plan and a personal adviser to support him and ensure he had access to legal advisers.

Mr Khalid Toka, Mr Idris' cousin who grew up with him and has been granted asylum in the UK, said on behalf of the family "Abdullah came to this country, as I did, fleeing the genocide of our people, seeking a place of safety. It is tragic that he took his life whilst in prison abandoned by those who could have cared for him and explained his rights. The family feel that justice has been done."

Harriet Wistrich, solicitor for the family, said "The evidence we uncovered was that this young and clearly very vulnerable person was abandoned by all those who could and should have cared for him. It is crucial that lessons are learned so that this appalling tragedy is never repeated."

Helen Shaw, Co-Director of INQUEST, said "The failure of Essex Social Services to comply with the law and to provide Mr Idris with coordinated care and support is deeply alarming. Such a vulnerable young man should not have been left without a personal adviser, alone and afraid in prison."

Joker Idris' family were represented at the inquest by INQUEST Lawyers Group members barrister Kirsten Heaven of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce and Partners.

See the following articles and press releases

The Independent

Chelmsford Weekly News


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