Man 'died after drink binge on prison bus': Group 4 admits failure of procedures

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The Independent Online
A REMAND prisoner died after consuming the equivalent of 40 measures of alcohol concealed in mineral water bottles while being taken to court by a private security firm, an inquest was told yesterday.

Ernest Hogg, 38, and other prisoners were mistakenly handed the confiscated bottles by Group 4 guards escorting them from the Wolds jail in Humberside to court at Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

At the inquest at Beverley in north Humberside, Group 4 admitted there was a 'continuing failure' of its procedures by former employees which led to Mr Hogg's death after the drinking binge on a prison security bus last May.

He drank almost a litre of the alcohol in just over an hour, and the blood-alcohol level in his body was thought to have been more than five times the drink-drive limit.

Mr Hogg, a heavy goods driver from Bowery Falls, near Forfar, Tayside, had been driven with other prisoners from the Wolds jail to Rotherham, and given what staff thought was a bottle of mineral water. It turned out to be illegal spirit which he drank as the bus was driven between prisons, a magistrates' court and past a hospital.

The alcohol had been sent to other prisoners through the post to the Wolds, seized, marked as alcohol by Group 4 staff and put on the security bus in a plastic bag. When the bus arrived back at the Wolds, Mr Hogg was unconscious, having choked on his own vomit. He died in hospital in Hull four days later, without regaining consciousness.

The story of what happened to Mr Hogg was told in private to an inquest jury, after a court order issued by the North Humberside coroner, Peter Gladwyn, banned the media from reporting the evidence before the jury until the conclusion of a trial, which ended on Thursday evening. The trial involved three other prisoners who were on remand with Mr Hogg at the time of his drinking binge.

David Stockdale, who represented Group 4 at the inquest, asked the company's head of training, John Bown, if he agreed there had been 'breaches of training, procedure and common sense'. Mr Bown, a former police officer, said he did.

Mr Stockdale said there had been a 'continuing failure' to follow basic instructions and training. Group 4 had been awarded the prison escort service contract by the Government in mid-November 1992. The service came on stream in April 1993 - a month before Mr Hogg's death. Mr Stockdale said Mr Bown's training timetable had been 'imposed' by the Home Office, with the company dealing with 6,000 applications in the five months to the start of the service.

For most of this week the coroner has cross-examined witnesses about the circumstances surrounding Mr Hogg's death and Group 4's training and first aid manuals.

He put it to Mr Bown that looking at the worst possible scenario, should a prisoner fall ill, security staff should either render first aid or proceed to the nearest hospital. Yet, he said, the prison van had driven 'only yards' from Hull Royal Infirmary with Mr Hogg inside. The inquest is expected to last another two weeks.