Accidental death verdict on prisoner

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The Independent Online
A prisoner who was found dead after being handcuffed in a leather body belt for 24 hours was accidentally killed, an inquest jury decided yesterday.

But the dead man's family are to sue the prison authorities and, with their legal team, boycotted the hearing's conclusion after moves to have a verdict of unlawful killing made available to the jury were refused.

Dennis Stevens, 29, an Afro-Caribbean of Bristol, was restrained by prison officers at Dartmoor jail, after punching one of them, the Exeter inquest was told. He was placed in the body belt, which had handcuffs attached, in which he remained until he was found dead the following morning. He died from acute kidney failure due to muscle damage which aggravated a blood condition.

Stevens, who had been visually checked every 15 minutes, was found in a cell at the Devon jail on 18 October 1995. He was serving a 12-year sentence for robbery and possessing a firearm and was due for release in August, 1996.

Helen Shaw, a director of the pressure group Inquest, said body belts were a "medieval relic" which should be outlawed.

John May, area manager of Prison Service Wales and West, said a police and internal inquiry had found no evidence to justify disciplinary proceedings.