Teenager who killed himself had a history of self-harm

A teenager with a history of suicide attempts and self-harm killed himself while in custody, days after being put in a single cell "to chill out", an inquest was told yesterday.

Philip Rustell, 19, had been taken off suicide watch despite suffering from paranoia, threatening to kill his cellmate and refusing to take his medication, the hearing was told.

He was found hanging in his cell at Reading young offenders institution in Berkshire on 17 January, four days after persuading wardens to move him to a single cell and two months after he was taken off the suicide risk list.

In a note left for his mother, Rustell said: "I have hit rock bottom. I just can't deal with it any more. That's why I've decided to put an end to all of this. No one could have made me change my mind. I don't want the prison staff blamed because they tried their best to help me through this rough patch."

Rustell, of Portsmouth, was sent to the institution in November last year after breaching his parole conditions three days after being released from a sentence for assault. He had tried to hang himself during the first sentence and was placed on the suicide risk list before arriving at Reading on remand.

A psychiatric nurse said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and paranoia as a result of a troubled background that involved the death of his father and a period spent with travellers.

Within days of arriving at Reading, the teenager had slashed his wrists and required 34 stitches. He was put on anti-psychotic drugs but was taken off suicide watch after his condition appeared to improve.

The jury at the inquest at Reading Civic Centre heard that by January, Rustell had been banned from attending prison classes and said that he was no longer taking his medication.

On 14 January, he asked to be moved to a cell on his own, claiming that he would kill his cellmate. Prison officers said that he appeared to be calmer after moving to a single cell, but four days later he was found hanging.

The jury returned a verdict of suicide, adding that he had done so while suffering from emotionally unstable personality disorder, post-traumatic stress and adjustment disorder.

This year, 88 people have killed themselves in jail, including 14 women. Prison reform campaigners have warned that the death toll is likely to reach a record, exceeding 100 by the end of the year.

Young offenders and remand prisoners are at particularly high risk, yet a report due to be released tomorrow will highlight the lack of care for teenagers in custody. A study by the Prison Reform Trust found that many prisoners aged 18 to 20 still spent up to 20 hours a day locked up without any activity or support. There are more than 8,000 people aged 18 to 20 in prison. Contrary to popular perceptions, more than 80 per cent are serving sentences for non-violent offences.

Enver Solomon, a senior policy adviser at the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Young adults in prison should be a high priority for the Government.

"They are a prolific offending group who have a strong likelihood of becoming long-term adult offenders. Their time in custody is critical if they are to be turned away from a life of crime."