The short and desperate life of Petra, the girl nobody helped Petra Blanksby killed herself aged 19 after she was jailed for arson - she had tried to burn herself following years of abuse. Now the coroner at her inquest is urging changes in the prison service.
At the time of her death Petra was on remand having been charged with the offence of arson with intent to endanger life. The offence with which Petra was charged took place at her own home and it is believed that the fire was an act of self-harm and the only life endangered was her own.
The inquest lasted three weeks before the Wakefield Coroner Mr David Hinchliff, returning a verdict that noted prison was 'not a suitable place' for Petra and that the sexual and emotional abuse she suffered while in the care of social services had contributed to her fragile mental state.
"This was a needless death. If the system ever let someone down it was this case. As one prison officer said during the inquest. "Petra was a death in custody waiting to happen". I couldn't agree more. If prison officers can see this it begs the question why was this vulnerable young woman ever imprisoned in the first place. The jury verdict again highlights the inappropriateness of holding the mentally ill in prison."
Leslie Thomas (Garden Court Chambers)
"I would like to think that in a civilised society someone as severely mentally disordered as the deceased should have been in the care of ordinary or forensic psychiatric services and not in prison. However, mental health law, as it was at the time, did not allow this and there were no appropriate NHS facilities." Dr Keith Rix Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist
The Jury gave a narrative verdict which was as follows: -
Inquest touching the death of Petra Blanksby held in Wakefield Coroners court
1. Deceased Petra Blanksby
2. Cause of death Hypoxic brain damage and Ligature strangulation.
Circumstances of deceased death.
"On or around 11.40 am on the 19th November 2003 in New Hall Prison, Wakefield she asphyxiated herself by ligature. This resulted in her ultimate death in Pinderfields Hospital Wakefield at 11.35am on the 24th November 2003.
Traumatic life experiences including mental and physical abuse in early childhood, coupled with an unstable upbringing and a complete lack of emotional support.
Prison was not an appropriate place in view of Petra's diagnosis.
There appears to be no infrastructure in the Forensic Mental Health Service for people with her problems.
(1 February 2008)