Northampton mother fights for new inquest into son’s death in prison cell

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The grieving mother of a young prisoner from Northampton found hanged in his prison cell is fighting for a fresh inquest into his death.

Louis Shaw, 23, died in his cell at HMP Ranby, near Worksop, in June 2013, London’s High Court heard, while serving a sentence for burglary.

In May last year an inquest jury found that he took his own life, although adding that it was unclear whether he actually “intended to end his life”.

His distraught mother, Nicola Wiggins, from Northampton, is now challenging the coroner’s handling of the inquest.

Her lawyers told London’s High Court, the coroner should have given jurors more scope to examine the wider circumstances of her son’s death.

Her barrister, Jude Bunting, pointed out that in March 2014 the Prisons Ombudsman had published a preliminary report which criticised “a number of aspects of her son’s care in custody”.

This related to both HMP Ranby and the previous jail where he was held.

The barrister argued that “his risk of suicide and self-harm was not assessed at all” while he was at HMP Ranby.

Prison staff, she added, offered “no additional support” to him although he was in a “highly emotional state” after receiving some devastating news about a loved one.

The officer responsible for unlocking his cell on the morning of his death failed to notice there was anything amiss, said Mr Bunting.

But Mr Shaw had probably already hanged himself by that point, he told the court.

Given that background, the barrister argued that jurors should have been given the chance to give a “narrative verdict”, focusing on whether systemic failures contributed to the tragedy.

“The findings of the Ombudsman had raised concerns about serious systemic failings in the build-up to the death,” he told Lord Justice Davis and Mr Justice Ouseley.

He also took issue with the coroner’s decision to press ahead with the inquest despite Mrs Wiggins lacking a barrister to represent her.

Mrs Wiggins was a “highly vulnerable and grieving mother” who was then under the care of the community mental health team, he explained.

She had been “overwhelmed” by the strangeness and intricacies of the inquest process, and so clearly needed to have legal representation.

Mrs Wiggins’ legal team are asking the two judges to quash the original verdict and direct a fresh inquest, incorporating a “narrative verdict” option.

Nageena Khalique QC, for assisstant coroner Ivan Cartwright, argued that everything possible had been done to put Mrs Wiggins at her ease during the inquest.

Nor was the scope of the enquiry “unlawfully restrictive”, she told the judges.

The judges have now reserved their ruling on the case until a later date.