Investigators face conflicting cell death claims

Union raises questions over whether ministers knew of accused murderer' s prison routine as attention centres on suicide risk

Investigations into how Frederick West was able to hang himself while under a regime of close supervision are likely to hear conflicting evidence over the times prison officers were scheduled to check his cell.

Two investigations into the apparent suicide of West - one by the West Midlands Police and another by the authorities at Winson Green Prison in Birmingham - learned yesterday that there is already conflicting claims over the supervision orders accorded to West. Although prison officers coming off their shift yesterday defended their role and claimed that West was "checked every 15 minutes", John Bartell, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, insisted that a decision had been taken to lift a "special watch" on West.

This was confirmed last night by the director general of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis, who said West was not subject to 15-minute checks. Mr Lewis also said that West had not been assessed as being a suicide risk and that precautions such as classification were, therefore, not in place.

Mr Bartell said West was on the 15-minute check routine when he first arrived at Winson Green. However, he claimed this was later relaxed. He said: "Because he assimilated quite quickly into the prison routine, local managers, presumably with permission from head office, removed these special watch facilities and Frederick West actually associated with other prisoners in his same category on a number of occasions.

"That decision, I presume, would have been authorised by head office." Speaking on BBC Radio, Mr Bartell said he would be "shocked" if the decision had been made solely at local level. He added: "It must have gone to the director of operations at the Prison Service. One would assume with such a high-profile prisoner that at least the minister would have been informed."

However, Winson Green's principal prison officer, Terry O'Dwyer, said everything possible was done to protect West.

He insisted West was checked at 15-minute intervals, but said: "If someone is determined to commit suicide, as hard as we try, they will."

With Mr Lewis claiming there had been no initial "at risk" categorisation of West, and that there had been no ministerial interference, the inquiries now have contradictory statements that will require attention.

Staff at the prison said West must have hanged himself immediately after a routine check was made. Mr O'Dwyer said an officer, using a cell viewing panel, would have seen West was all right just minutes before he committed suicide. West was discovered at12.55pm and was certified dead at 1.22pm.

On New Year's Day, the Independent, speaking to a Prison Service source, understood that West was categorised as a "vulnerable" inmate and had been under 30 minute checks.

Before Mr Lewis's statements, the Home Office said no details could be released, but added: "There are no rules governing the supervision of those at risk." On the precise categorisation of West and whether he was deemed "vulnerable", it refused to comment.

Leading article, page 13

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own