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Families of suicide men lose court case over jail’s self-inflicted deaths rate

The judicial review claim the governor and the Secretary of State for Justice said was “neither appropriate nor necessary”.

Relatives of two men who died in Woodhill Prison have lost their High Court case over the rate of self-inflicted deaths at the jail.

Ian Brown, 44, hanged himself in his cell at the category A prison in Milton Keynes in July last year, while Daniel Dunkley, 35, died a few days after he was found suspended by a ligature in his cell later the same month.

Mr Brown’s mother and sister, Pearl Scarfe and Julie Barber, and Mr Dunkley’s brother, Jamie Blyde, who is himself a prisoner, wanted the court to order Woodhill’s governor and the Secretary of State for Justice to comply with the requirements of the Prison Service Instructions (PSIs).

They cover management of prisoners at risk of harm to self, to others and from others, early days in custody and medical emergency response codes.

On Tuesday, Lord Justice Irwin and Mr Justice Garnham rejected the judicial review claim which the governor and the Secretary of State for Justice said was “neither appropriate nor necessary”.

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HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes (Chris Radburn/PA)

Counsel for the families, Heather Williams QC, said the claim addressed the “exceptionally high” current rate of self-inflicted deaths at the prison.

There were seven self-inflicted deaths last year, five in 2015 and 18 at the prison since May 2013.

She said: “The rate of self-inflicted death at HMP Woodhill is far higher than at any other prison, at a time when the suicide rate in the prison estate as a whole is at a record high.

“There is a compelling and urgent need to protect other inmates at HMP Woodhill from killing themselves.”

She argued that the case raised serious ongoing breaches of the most fundamental provisions within Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, which protects the right to life, and involved grave, long-term failures to comply with the great responsibility placed on the authorities to protect prisoners.

James Strachan QC said the governor was well aware of his obligations to comply with the requirements of the PSIs and continued to take steps to ensure those obligations were met.

Any self-inflicted death in custody was tragic and a matter of the utmost concern, said counsel.

In their ruling, the judges said the families had failed to establish a “systemic failing” which would be amenable to the type of relief sought.

Even if they had, it was doubtful that an order would have been appropriate, said Mr Justice Garnham.

“The defendants have made it clear that they share the great concern of the claimants … this court and other commentators about the rate of suicides in prisons generally, and HMP Woodhill in particular. They have in place sensible and satisfactory policies.

“It is important to stress that the contents of the policies are not criticised by the claimants. They specify the right sort of training.

“The defendants have acknowledged that, on occasions, operational errors have been made by their staff in dealing with those at risk of suicide and have sought to prevent those mistakes being repeated.”

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