Essex: Family hope for answers from prison probe

THE record of an Essex prison rocked by 11 suicides in seven years will come under the spotlight today.

An inquest is this morning opening into the death of James Connolly, one of a number of prisoners who died at Chelmsford jail between 2001-2008.

Inquest, a charity representing the devastated family of the 23-year-old - also known as Jimmy - say he was founded hanged from his cell bar windows in January 2008.

They say Mr Connolly’s family hope the inquest at Chelmsford Coroner’s Court will highlight any failures at the jail in caring for prisoners at risk.

Mr Connolly, who was serving a two-year prison sentence for driving offences, had a long history of mental illness and was identified as someone at serious risk of self-harm.

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Deborah Coles, co-director of the charity Inquest, said: “This is a very disturbing death of a young father with mental health problems.

“The inquest must answer the key question of concern of why Jimmy was sent to Chelmsford Prison, which was unable to keep such a vulnerable person safe.

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“This death, like previous deaths, raises real concerns about the fundamental failings and treatment of vulnerable prisoners.”

Fran Butcher, Jimmy’s partner and mother of his two children, said: “Jimmy was a kind and loving father and partner.

“His family and friends remain devastated by his death, which has left a massive hole in my family that will never be filled.

“Nothing will ever make up for the loss we have suffered, but we desperately hope that our efforts to obtain the truth about Jimmy’s death will also ensure better care for vulnerable prisoners in the future, and prevent other families suffering in the way we have.”

Mr Connolly’s family hope the inquest will examine: why he was placed in a single cell on a prison wing, given his previous attempts to self-harm; the lack of a formal handover to ensure the risk Mr Connolly posed to himself was known by prison officers responsible for his safety; and potential systemic failures at the jail in caring for prisoners at risk.

A spokesman for the Prison Service said: “All deaths in custody are a tragedy and the National Offender Management Service considers the findings of inquests to learn lessons in addition to those already learned as a result of Prisons and Probation Ombudsman reports.

“The Governor and staff at HMP Chelmsford are committed to caring for vulnerable prisoners and reducing self-harm.

“Following several deaths in custody in 2007 and 2008, the Prison Service safer custody team entered the prison and were reassured that necessary procedures were being followed.

“Steps have also been taken to improve staff training and build a relationship with the Samaritans.

“There have been no deaths at the prison since 2008.”

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