Securicor staff suspended for death in their care

Kathy Marks reports on questions raised over prisoner escorts
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The Independent Online
The Prison Service yesterday suspended seven staff employed by Securicor, the private security firm, after an inquest jury found that lack of care contributed to the accidental death of a prisoner who hanged himself while in their custody.

Three hours after the verdict at Hammersmith coroners' court in west London, the Prison Service said it was suspending the certificates of all the officers responsible for the custody of Peter Austin, and would consider whether they should be permanently revoked. It said it would also review Securicor's training programme in the light of the case, and would "urgently consider" recommendations by the coroner, Dr John Burton, .

Mr Austin, 30, was found hanging by his T-shirt from a light fitting in the cells below Brentford magistrates, court, West London, on 29 January this year. After he was cut down, a bail hearing went ahead outside his cell as he lay slumped on the floor inside.

Earlier, Dr Burton had said he would inform the Home Office of concerns expressed by Mr Austin's family about the adequacy of Securicor's training programme. Patrick O'Connor, counsel for the family, told Dr Burton: "It appears that little or nothing has been done by those in authority to prevent the recurrence of similar fatalities."

His guards denied an allegation that there was a delay of up to 10 minutes before they entered the cell. However, all but one of them said they believed he was faking a suicide attempt.

Mr Austin was the first person to die in the care of Securicor, which is responsible for prisoner escorts in London. One man died in 1993 while being transported by Group 4, another private firm.

Deborah Coles, co-director of the pressure group Inquest, said the case had reinforced questions about the appropriateness of private security firms to look after vulnerable prisoners.

John Metcalfe, director of court and escorting contracts at Securicor, said that although its training and procedures accorded with Home Office specifications, the company would "carefully review the lessons to be learned from this incident".