Inmate might not have intended to die

By Dave GooderhamA DEPRESSED mother-of-two found hanging in her cell just hours after appearing in crown court might not have intended to commit suicide, an inquest has ruled.

By Dave Gooderham

A DEPRESSED mother-of-two found hanging in her cell just hours after appearing in crown court might not have intended to commit suicide, an inquest has ruled.

Although April Sherman's body was discovered slumped with a ligature around her neck, a group of 12 jurors said they could not decide on the “balance of probabilities” as to whether she deliberately intended to claim her own life.

The two-day inquest in Bury St Edmunds - which prompted the Prison Service to pledge it will learn any lessons stemming from the tragedy - heard Ms Sherman had access to pens and paper in her cell at Edmunds Hill Prison in Stradishall, near Haverhill, but had not left a suicide note.

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Norma King, deputy governor at the prison, told the inquest that on the day in question Ms Sherman had writing equipment in her cell and had begun filling out an application for work inside the jail.

Although accepting Ms Sherman had placed the ligature around her own neck, the jurors opted yesterday against a verdict of suicide.

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They instead opted for a narrative verdict, which read: “On January 13, 2004, at approximately 8pm, April Sherman was found suspended by a ligature in a locked cell at Edmunds Hill prison. The ligature was applied by herself.”

The inquest heard prison officers had discovered Ms Sherman's body just hours after she had appeared before Ipswich Crown Court on a GBH charge.

The 27-year-old, of Clay Road, Bury St Edmunds, was found slumped in front of a window with a ligature made from a shoelace attached to a cell bar and then around her neck.

Home Office pathologist Dr Michael Heath said strong ligature marks on Ms Sherman's neck suggested her lifeless body could have been hanging for about two hours before prison officers made the discovery.

“Many people described this prominent ligature mark. If you find someone suspended for a short time, the mark is not as prominent as when time develops,” he added.

“All these indicators strongly suggest that she was dead, on the balance of probabilities, for about two hours.”

The inquest heard the mother-of-two had feared that her youngest son, like his older brother, could be taken into care and even adopted if she received a lengthy prison sentence for allegedly stabbing her boyfriend and puncturing his lung.

The death was the second at the prison in just eight days, the inquest was told, and a spokesman for the Prison Service said: “Any death in custody is a tragedy and of course our thoughts are with the friends and family of Ms Sherman at this time.

“We will look at the details of the verdict and any recommendations which might have been made and then act upon them.”

Following the inquest, a leading charity called on the courts to show more leniency before sending women to prison.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We all have to take responsibility for people dying in prison.

“We would appeal to the courts not to send women to prison when it is clearly not a safe place. It is not the fault of the prisons - there are too many men, women and children in prisons and the system can't cope.

“We have to reduce the flow of people going into prisons and then we can start improving conditions.

“The alternatives to prison obviously depend on what people have done, but the Howard League has a variety of alternatives which help people make amends and are a lot cheaper.”

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