‘This will happen again’: Warning over state of prisons from family of brutal spice killing victim

Exclusive:  Inquest finds catalogue of failings leading up to Terry Ojuederie’s violent death

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 29 December 2017 18:49 GMT
Terry Ojuederie, 42, was killed by his cellmate at HMP Peterborough
Terry Ojuederie, 42, was killed by his cellmate at HMP Peterborough

Terry Ojuederie’s Christmas presents were waiting to be wrapped on the living room floor when his partner got a knock at the door from officials bringing the news that he was dead.

The 42-year-old father had been beaten to death using a flat screen television by his cellmate at HMP Peterborough, just two weeks before he was due to be released.

“We had made all the plans,” says his partner, Hayley Spencer-Tucker. “Because he was just missing Christmas we were going to have our Christmas Day when he got out.

“It was absolutely devastating, and it still is, to think about the future we could have had.”

Mr Ojuederie had four children and a four-year-old grandson, who will not remember his grandfather.

An inquest identified a catalogue of failings that contributed to his death, including the failure to identify his future killer as a risk, allowing synthetic cannabinoid spice to become “rife” at HMP Peterborough and leaving officers unable to deal with affected inmates.

Mr Ojuederie’s relatives fear more lives will be lost if private contractor Sodexo and other prison authorities do not make urgent changes.

“We can’t bring Terry back but I’m hoping that this process may save someone else’s life in the future,” Ms Spencer-Tucker said.

“The prison system needs to sort itself out. I know it’s a hard process but something needs to be done because I am worried for other prisoners, especially vulnerable people being locked up with the likes of his killer around Spice.”

Mr Ojuederie’s sister, Jenny Tucholski, said their father and brothers are still struggling to come to terms with his brutal death.

“They all say prisons are underfunded and understaffed and seem to think that’s acceptable but it’s not – this will absolutely happen again,” she added.

“His youngest girls, who are only seven and 11, now face a life of growing up without their father.

“They love and miss him very much and, due to their ages, are yet to be told the circumstances by which their daddy was taken from them.”

A non-violent criminal with a history of burglary and drug offences, Mr Ojuederie was put in a shared cell with a man serving a six-year sentence for grievous bodily harm.

Prisoners told investigators Jordan Palmer had complained about his cellmate and had threatened him during angry outbursts, but officers believed the pair got on well.

So when Palmer rang his cell buzzer saying he felt unwell shortly after 1am on 9 December 2015, a guard saw no cause for alarm.

Noting the prisoner was displaying symptoms of spice inhalation, he informed the duty nurse and delivered a message telling Palmer to drink water.

The inmate claimed he felt better, but when the guard returned 20 minutes later, he found Mr Ojuederie dead and his cellmate repeating: “I don’t know what I have done.”

Palmer had killed his victim in what police described as “one of the most vicious” attacks they had seen, using a television as a weapon while punching, kicking and stamping on Mr Ojuederie.

HMP Peterborough, a category B private prison, is one of five jails operated by Sodexo in England and Scotland
HMP Peterborough, a category B private prison, is one of five jails operated by Sodexo in England and Scotland (Google Streetview)

He was unable to defend himself after smoking spice, which was still legal at the time, or escape from the locked cell.

Palmer was convicted of manslaughter by diminished responsibility after a jury accepted claims he had accidentally inhaled the drug before the incident.

A report released on HMP Peterborough by the Chief Inspector of Prisons earlier in 2015 had raised concerns about the prevalence of spice, which could be bought at half the price of tobacco in some jails before a national crackdown.

The synthetic drug is so potent that prison officers have collapsed after inhaling it accidentally, and it has been linked to an alarming rise in prison deaths and violence.

Spice, which can vary hugely in strength, has side-effects including mood changes, aggression, memory loss, hallucinations, paranoia, nausea, seizures and psychosis.

But while jailing Palmer for 14 years, Judge David Farrell QC said consumption could not fully explain the “particularly brutal” killing.

“While you were under the influence of drugs, that influence does not totally explain why you did what you did,” he told the court, noting that Palmer had had the presence of mind to wash his hands afterwards.

Mr Ojuederie’s brother-in-law, John Tucholski, said the family would “never know” what effect spice had on the murder.

“It’s almost like a ‘get of jail free’ card for people’s actions,” he told The Independent. “Do we think everything was fully explored about what happened on that day? No.”

The inquest found prison officers should have recognised the risk that spice “might cause an individual to react in an extremely violent manner” but that staff had not been formally trained on what to do if they suspected someone was under the influence.

It concluded that efforts to reduce availability were “insufficient”, with an action plan including searches and netting not implemented, and no documented evidence of spice use.

BBC Panorama uncover 'chaos' in prison system

The inquest also condemned HMP Peterborough for failing to act on intelligence Palmer was carrying a large blade and indications he was violent, saying a cell sharing risk assessment should have been reviewed.

The coroner said it was “possible” officers had considered moving Palmer before he killed Mr Ojuederie but there was no documented proof, adding: “If staff were aware then insufficient steps were taken to investigate the request. It should have been logged.”

A jury at Huntingdon Coroner’s Court found all of the factors contributed to Mr Ojuederie’s death, while the prison’s disclosure of vital information was described as “nothing short of shambolic”.

CCTV footage was not retained, being automatically deleted as part of a 30-day cycle, and prison officers claimed their log books had been seized and lost before they appeared on the eighth day of the inquest.

Mr Ojuederie’s sister said questions remained over how the documents “suddenly turned up”, but could not be pursued without delaying the inquest further.

“Only Palmer knows what happened in that cell,” Ms Tucholski added. “Justice hasn’t been served for Terry … the prison isn’t fully accountable for all the things the inquest highlighted about it and the failings that helped cause this.”

Ms Tucholski said the family was concerned about vital information not being retained, adding: “We believe that evidence which came to light in the inquest was denied to the police investigation and the criminal trial.”

Relatives were unaware of how Mr Ojuederie died until they saw a breaking news notification during a meeting with police, being severely distressed by “horrible details” released to the press.

They have barely had time to grieve through two years of legal processes in the criminal trial and inquest.

Ms Tucholski said she missed her brother more than she could express, telling how he had a troubled relationship with his mother and stepfather that resulted in him being put in care homes.

By the time he was in his twenties, Mr Ojuederie was struggling with an addiction to hard drugs, which started a cycle of prison sentences over crimes to feed his habit.

“He would come out of prison remorseful, positive and keen to have a new chance at life and would do well for a while,” Mrs Tucholski said.

“When Terry came off drugs, which was throughout many parts of his life, he would lead a generally happy life and enjoyed spending time with his family and friends. Terry was likeable and had a cheeky, charming way about him.”

Mr Ojuederie carried out work including plumbing, joinery, double glazing, factory work and completing courses when he could, but was handed another 21-month prison sentence in 2014.

He was moved to HMP Peterborough in September 2015 after completing a drug detoxification programme and being assessed for early release at another jail.

​The inquest heard that some of the Sodexo staff on the wing were young and inexperienced, and had worked for a matter of weeks.

The Assistant Coroner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Sean Horstead, is sending a “Preventing Future Deaths” report to Sodexo Justice Services and the Ministry of Justice on the lessons learned from Mr Ojuederie’s death.

His sister said relatives were still “tormented” by his violent death in a place where he was supposed to be safe.

“We do not feel that the full truth about the circumstances surrounding his death has yet been fully uncovered, and wonder if there is still more to come,” Ms Tucholski added.

“We were very much looking forward to Terry coming home and had hoped that this time there was a bright and happy future for him with his children, partner and us, his family, along with his many friends, but that chance was taken away.”

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, said the horrendous case was “symptomatic of the perilous state of prisons”, with high rates of violence, drug problems, murders and suicide.

“While government rhetoric on dealing with spice focuses on the supply, it overlooks intelligence sharing, staff training and the health and safety of prisoners,” she added.

Sodexo did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment.

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