Group 4 to be sued after jail death verdict

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GROUP 4, the private security company, is to be sued over the death of a remand prisoner following an inquest jury's verdict yesterday.

The five men and four women found that a 'lack of care' had contributed to the death of Ernest Hogg, 38, who died after choking on his vomit in a Group 4 security bus. He had drunk over a litre of alcohol while waiting to appear in court and had then been driven across Yorkshire and Humberside.

The jury had been told that if Hogg had been given medical attention he had up to a 95 per cent chance of survival. Yesterday, after an inquest lasting 17 days, the jury found that he had died from brain damage caused by choking on vomit and, crucially, that there had been a 'lack of care' shown to him.

Under Coroner's Rules, juries can no longer name individuals or companies but are allowed to bring in the special lack of care verdict.

They had listened to more than 11 hours of summing up from the North Humberside coroner, Peter Gladwin, but took only 93 minutes to reach the verdict.

Afterwards, Mr Hogg's widow, Marlene, from Letham, in Angus, Scotland, who has two children, said she would start a civil action against Group 4 immediately.

Mr Hogg, who had run a heavy goods vehicle company in Scotland with her, was arrested last year on a drugs charge. On 4 May, he, with other prisoners from The Wolds on Humberside, staffed and run by Group 4, was driven some 50 miles to a court hearing in Rotherham.

The prisoners had been handed what security officers thought were bottles of water but they contained vodka smuggled into the prison. They went on a binge while waiting for their hearing. The men were put back on the bus and returned to The Wolds intoxicated. One prisoner was unable to stand and had to be laid out on chairs pushed together. But no one noticed that Mr Hogg remained in the van.

Mr Hogg was driven on to Hull Crown Court, then to Hull prison and eventually back to The Wolds where staff discovered him unconscious. He had choked a few minutes before arriving at the prison. Despite being revived and taken to hospital he died four days later.

A Home Office pathologist told the inquest in Beverley, North Humberside, that 'death was not inevitable' despite the large amount of alcohol consumed.

David Stockdale, appearing for Group 4, admitted that there had been a 'continuing failure' of its procedures by former employees. John Bates, a spokesman for Group 4, read a brief statement afterwards but refused to answer questions. He said that Mr Hogg's death was tragic and the company's sympathy lay with his family. 'Close attention has been paid to the training and procedures our staff work to. We remain confident that providing these rules are followed by custody officers, a tragic event such as this should not happen.'

Six staff were suspended after Mr Hogg's death. Three were dismissed last year.

A detailed report, prepared by a former Scotland Yard commander, was not put before the jury. At any civil action this might have to be produced.

Group 4 runs Britain's first private prison at The Wolds and has a five- year contract to escort prisoners to and from courts in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Humberside and North and South Yorkshire.

The Prison Service director general, Derek Lewis, acknowledged that Group 4 had some 'initial difficulties' when it took over the contract last April. Since then it had performed well, carrying out about 90,000 escort duties by 31 January.