Prisoner's suicide was 'caused by neglect'

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The Independent Online

A schizophrenic prisoner was able to hang himself in his cell because of the "neglect" of prison staff who failed to heed repeated warnings that he was suicidal, an inquest jury decided on Thursday.

Keita Craig, son of the Culture Club bass player Mikey Craig, was found hanging from his shoelaces in the hospital wing of Wandsworth prison, south London, on 1 February last year. Westminster coroner's court was told that Mr Craig, 22, a paranoid schizophrenic, might not have died but for "gross failure" by the Prison Service.

The former music student had been remanded to Wandsworth the day before his death after an appearance at court where he had tried to cut his wrists with his teeth and fingernails. His shoe laces, which had been confiscated by court staff, were returned to him, and despite five separate approaches from his family and carers to jail staff to say he was at "high risk" of doing himself harm, he was placed in a single cell without a requirement for 15-minute checks to be made – the equivalent of a "suicide watch". An injection to control his mood swings was not administered.

After a four-day hearing, the inquest jury returned a verdict that Mr Craig killed himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed. But, in the third recent criticism of its kind against the Prison Service, the panel added that "neglect" by staff contributed to his death.

The inquest was the second into Mr Craig's death after the High Court ruled in February this year that an original jury had been wrongly barred from considering whether a lack of care had taken place.

Dr Paul Knapman, the Westminster coroner, told the jury that the neglect verdict could only apply if they were convinced the suicide might have been prevented by basic medical care. He said: "Neglect is where the evidence shows that it is probable there was a gross failure to provide basic medical attention for someone in a dependent position ... and that this failure led or contributed to the death."

The inquest was told that Mr Craig, from Richmond, south-west London, was sent to Wandsworth prison after attempts to find him suitable psychiatric care the day before his death failed.

Barbara Skelton, deputy supervisor for Securicor at Richmond magistrates' court, where Mr Craig was appearing on a charge of robbery, said she had removed his laces and searched his cell, at his request, for sharp objects. She said: "He was very, very frightened. He was frightened of himself."

Mr Craig's mother, Cleo Scott, 39, who attended the inquest with his grandmother, Erin Pizzey, the founder of the women's refuge movement, said her son had paid for his illness with his life. Ms Scott said: "Keita should never have been in prison in the first place. Once in prison, there was a complete failure to protect him."

¿ The Prison Service launched an inquiry yesterday into bullying among staff at Holloway women's jail in north London. Seven junior and middle managers have been redeployed to other prisons.