Highpoint prison officers told to check more closely on inmates after cell death

Callum Brown

Callum Brown - Credit: Archant

Changes were put in place at Highpoint prison immediately after a 25-year-old inmate was found dead in his cell, an inquest has heard.

Callum Brown, from Romford, was found dead by fellow inmates at HMP Highpoint South, near Bury St Edmunds, on April 8, 2013.

During the second day of his inquest on January 12 – at the Farmers Club, in Bury – the prison officer who unlocked Mr Brown’s door the morning of his death admitted he should have checked inside to get a response from Mr Brown before moving on to the next door.

“For me personally, it must have been a few days later one of the governors came and spoke to me about this and emphasised the fact to me and other staff that responses must be given when unlocking cells,” prison officer Donald Angus told the jury.

Mr Brown’s body was found shortly afterwards hanging in his cell by one of his fellow prisoners, leading a group of them to desperately try to get him down.

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Giving evidence on Monday, Steven McKenzie from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman said officers were required to get a response from inmates when unlocking doors to ensure if there was an incident it was discovered by staff and not by other prisoners.

Recounting Mr McKenzie’s evidence yesterday, coroner Peter Dean said: “Officers are supposed to look at and make contact with a prisoner through the observation panel before unlocking a locked cell door.

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“As well as a security precaution it’s also a check on the prisoner’s wellbeing. It ensures staff rather than prisoners are the first to deal with an emergency.”

In a previous statement of Mr Angus read out by Dr Dean, he described the unlocking procedure at around 8.15am as “fairly routine.”

“Not all of them will speak to me but they will be moving around and some will come out of their doors straight away,” he said.

However, the 11 jurors were told that prison officers often had “very restricted time” and Mr Angus often did not wait to get a response from prisoners before unlocking the cell doors.

However, Mr Angus said “reinforcement” of the regulation was given within a few days of Mr Brown’s death.

Monday’s session also heard an operational support grade officer, Paul Honour, had not conducted a 6.45am observation through the panel to check on prisoners’ welfare, despite recording a check on the relevant document.

Mr Honour himself appeared yesterday to give evidence at the inquest. The jury heard he was receiving treatment for depression at the time which he said contributed to his not doing the check.

“I don’t know why I didn’t do the check, because I normally would have,” he said.

He told the jury he no longer worked for the prison service and after giving evidence was wished all the best for his future health by Dr Dean.

Mr Brown was serving a short-term prison sentence for breaching a restraining order and had also been sentenced for criminal damage and assault.

The court heard he received help with his mental health at the prison and had been on prescribed antidepressants until his death. However, there had been a gap between his last appointment in 2012 and his death in 2013.

The inquest is scheduled to last for five weeks.

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