Brain-damaged prisoner awarded £4.7m

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The Independent Online

A prisoner who suffered catastrophic brain damage after he fell from an upper bunk bed during a seizure at London's Brixton jail has been awarded a compensation package worth £4.7 million.

In 2007, High Court judge Mr Justice Mackay ruled that "delays and deficiencies" on the part of prison staff amounted to negligence and said the Home Office was 85% to blame for Ryan St George's injuries.



The following year, the Court of Appeal allowed Mr St George's appeal against the finding of 15% contributory negligence, which was made on the basis that his own "lifestyle choices" had contributed to his condition and caused the initial fit.



Today, the case came back to court in London for Mr Justice Mackay to approve an agreed settlement which will pay for the 24-hour care which Mr St George, now 41, will always need.



The judge had heard that, on his admission to Brixton in October 1997 to serve a four-month sentence for theft, Mr St George had disclosed that he was an intravenous heroin user, a heavy drinker and had been having fits.



The following month he was moved from a bottom bunk to an upper bunk, from which he fell six feet on to a concrete floor during a seizure, and went into an epileptic fit lasting an hour and three quarters.



An ambulance was called and was already delayed by over half an hour when it arrived at the prison and experienced a further delay because one of the gates was "stuck".



"The ambulance was not called for 39 minutes after the event, despite the common sense view being formed within a minute or so that he would have to go to hospital," the judge said.



"When the ambulance crew arrived, they were unable to drive the ambulance though the gates, despite the person who made the 999 call asking for the ambulance to be met at the gates and being assured that it would be.



"One of the gates was said to be stuck for some reason which has never been explained and there was a commercial vehicle blocking the entrance. The two young female ambulance crew had to unload their equipment and continue their journey on foot.



"When they arrived, they found Mr St George, as they put it, in as bad a state as a person can be without being dead. The scene was chaotic. The only information the ambulance crew got was from the other inmates surrounding him."



The judge said the breaches of duty of care - the delay in Mr St George's treatment and the failure to maintain his airway and administer oxygen - caused him to suffer brain damage at a time when he was already suffering an epileptic seizure.



"Mr St George was an accident waiting to happen," he added.



Today, Mr St George's counsel, David Pittaway QC, said that his 77-year-old aunt Margaret had devotedly cared for him over the years in a small flat in Camden, north London, with just a few hours of help a day.



The combination of a lump sum and periodic payments would now fund commercial care and allow aunt and nephew to stay in the area but move into a bigger rented flat more suitable for Mr St George, who could no longer walk.



The Home Office's counsel, Michael Kent QC, said that the commitment shown by Miss St George was "quite remarkable".



The judge added: "In all these cases, one sees devoted care by family and friends and in this case, it is more marked than most - Miss St George has done remarkable service for a lady not in the first flush of youth.



"It must have been hard difficult work and it could only have been done by someone entirely devoted to Ryan's welfare.



"It is to be hoped that she gets some respite in the future."



Later, solicitor Jacqui Hayat, of Hodge Jones & Allen, who brought Ryan's case through his father, journalist David St George, said: "This is at last justice for Ryan who can now, after a very long haul, receive proper compensation for his devastating injuries.



"The case is thought to be groundbreaking in that annual periodical payments have been used to pay rent.



"This has many advantages as it means Ryan can rent near his devoted family and will continue to receive the rental payments for life, but is also a sensible arrangement for the defendant where life expectancy cannot be agreed, and is a solution expected to be followed in many cases where the life expectancy views of the parties are poles apart".