Mother calls for reform after Northampton man with mental health issues takes own life in prison

"He just wanted some help. He should have been taken care of, not sent to prison"

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 10:37 am

A Northampton man's mother has paid tribute to her son and called for changes to the prison system after he took his own life at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes.

The mother is being supported by the charity, INQUEST, which provides help to grieving families and those investigating deaths.

The inquest into the death of Mark Culverhouse from Northampton, concluded on Friday May 21.

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Mark Culverhouse

In a statement released by the charity on Monday, May 24, the charity said the jury found that there were critical failures contributing to his death.

"These failures included putting Mr Culverhouse in segregation and unlawfully detaining him past his license expiry date. He had spent four days in custody," the charity said..

"On 23 April 2019, shortly before 3pm, Mr Culverhouse was found unresponsive on the floor of a cell in the segregation unit at HMP Woodhill. He later pronounced dead."

In the statement, his mother, Wendy, said: “Mark is the light in my life. He just wanted some help. He should have been taken care of, not sent to prison. The coroner and the jury know Mark should not have been in prison. I hope that changes will be made so no family ever has this terrible experience.”

According to the charity, the senior coroner, Tom Osborne, indicated that he will be writing a report to prevent future deaths highlighting Mr Culverhouse's recall to prison when his licence had in fact expired, as well as the delay in releasing him once in prison.

"The coroner said he was “outraged” by Mr Culverhouse's unlawful detention which, he said, had led Mr Culverhouse further into crisis, and eventually death," the charity said.

A Prison Service spokesperson responded by saying: “Our thoughts remain with Mr Culverhouse’s family and friends. We will consider the coroner’s findings and respond in due course.”

The inquest had heard that on April 17, 2019, Mr Culverhouse was in serious crisis in the community and had threatened to take his own life, the charity added. He was talked round by skilled negotiators but then arrested for offences directly related to the incident which involved throwing objects from a flatblock in East Hunsbury.

The charity added: "Mr Culverhouse was then taken to Northampton Police Station, where two doctors deemed him fit to be detained despite the negotiator wanting him to have a formal Mental Health Act assessment. The man was subsequently interviewed and charged.

"The next day he was taken to Northampton Magistrates’ Court but, before he taken up to the court, he had to be taken to hospital after deliberately hitting his head very hard in the cell area. He repeatedly indicated that he would kill himself if returned to prison.

"While he was in hospital, the probation service decided to recall the man to prison in relation to a previous short sentence of driving while disqualified, despite the fact he said he was suicidal," the charity said.

The charity said that the inquest heard that the probation services do not calculate sentences before deciding to recall someone.

"He was still in deep crisis upon arrival and was captured on CCTV saying he had been recalled for trying to take his own life and asking to be taken to hospital," the statement said.

"It transpired that he had no time left to serve on his licence and should in fact have been immediately released. However, no administrative staff were present to calculate his release date over the Easter bank holiday weekend, so he remained incarcerated, and in four days was twice removed to segregation."

Mr Culverhouse was subject to suicide and self-harm monitoring throughout his time in the prison (ACCT), the charity said.

"On April 19 2019 he was forcibly removed to segregation where he repeatedly hit his head very hard and expressed the wish to die. He was later found unresponsive and taken to hospital. He spent a number of days on constant observation," the charity added.

On 23 April 2019, after an altercation with another prisoner, Mr Culverhouse was restrained and again taken to segregation, although still on an ACCT.

"There were only two documented observations and both times he was said to be under a sheet. Earlier that same day, administrative staff had been alerted to the fact that Mr Culverhouse might be due for immediate release. This was not communicated to him."

By the time they confirmed the calculation he had attempted to take his own life and later died, the charity's statement added.

According to the charity's statement, the inquest jury concluded that the decision to transfer Mr Culverhouse to the Segregation Unit on 23 April contributed to his death.

"They found that the manner of observations, with his body obscured during the purported observations, were insufficient. The jury also concluded that a defect in the system of recall and release from prison that led to Mr Culverhouse's unlawful detention, and contributed to his death," the statement said.

Mr Culverhouse was the second of four men to die in the prison in 2019. The most recent inspection of HMP Woodhill found the prison is ‘still not safe enough’.

Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors said: “The fact that a man in suicidal crisis was recalled to prison by probation officers in relation to a 16-week sentence is bad enough, but in this case it transpired that Mark had 81 unused days due to him.

"Had probation known that they could not have recalled him. The defect in the system meant that he spent four nights in custody, where he repeatedly expressed that he was in crisis.

"The ACCT system did not protect him – despite the exceptionality requirement, he was twice placed in segregation by officers concerned with discipline and not his obvious vulnerability. He was then able to ligature in segregation because prison officers ignored that fact he was under a sheet on the two occasions they purported to observe him through the panel.”

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, said: “Woodhill has had one of the highest numbers of self-inflicted deaths in prison in recent years, with numerous critical inquests identifying failures in their care. Despite promises that lessons will be learned after every death, they maintain unsafe practices and continue to put people at risk.

"Mark’s imprisonment and subsequent death at Woodhill should never have been allowed to happen. Not only because this prison has had ample opportunity to change, but because there was no lawful basis for his detention. For these failures Mark paid with his life.

"What would it take for this prison to prevent deaths, and for the Ministry of Justice to take effective action to prevent the imprisonment of people with serious mental ill health, and protect lives in prisons?”