In this issue:

  • INQUEST's response to COVID-19
  • Prison
  • Immigration detention
  • INQUEST in New York
  • International Women's Day
  • Benefit deaths
  • Farewell to INQUEST staff
  • Supporting INQUEST

INQUEST's  response to COVID-19

We know that this is a time of uncertainty and stress for everyone. This period may be particularly hard and isolating for those who have experienced traumatic bereavement, writes our Family Participation Officer, Mo Mansfield, in a note to bereaved families.

INQUEST are working to ensure people detained in prisons, police custody, immigration detention centres or mental health and learning disability settings are not forgotten during this coronavirus pandemic. Unlike people in the community, those held in detention are totally dependent on the state for their safety. They are living in close proximity and cannot choose to self-isolate. Budget cuts across the public sector alongside long-term issues have already resulted in poor conditions and levels of care, intensifying pre-existing risks to safety and life.

1. We are continuing to prioritise our advice and casework service. Inquests and investigations are now subject to disruption and newly bereaved families are likely to encounter restrictions to post death rituals. Our casework team are closely monitoring the situation, liaising with investigation bodies and the Chief Coroner’s Office, and speaking with lawyers and bereaved families to provide much needed support and clarity.

Help and advice

2. We are raising our concerns with decision makers and reminding authorities of their domestic and international human rights obligations. There must be transparency and an effective investigation following any death in custody and detention. We have published a detailed briefing setting out our immediate concerns around the pandemic in our areas of expertise which was broadly disseminated to ministers, parliamentarians, NGOs and others.
3. We are putting pressure on the government to ensure that people in places of detention are protected during this crisis. INQUEST and Women in Prison wrote an open letter to the government calling for a drastic reduction of people in prison an immigration detention, supported by over 150 signatories. This received coverage in The TimesIndependent and elsewhere. 
4. We are providing regular updates via our website and social media on the provision and availability of our services, the impact on investigations and inquests, and other agencies for practical and emotional support during this period.
"People held in detention settings are some of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged. COVID-19 does not discriminate, nor should our response to it. Just as the government’s response in the community seeks to prioritise protecting those most at risk, so should its response within detention settings"  Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST.


Charlotte Nokes, 38, was a celebrated artist who upon release from prison had a scholarship to study art. She was serving an indefinite Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence and was more than seven years over the minimum tariff when she died at HMP Peterborough. The inquest concluded that her death was by ‘natural causes’.

Deborah Coles told the Guardian“Charlotte was trapped in limbo, her ambitions and prospects indefinitely on pause.” Listen to this Guardian Podcast episode exploring the harmful impacts of the IPP sentence, speaking with Charlotte’s dad Steven and Donna Mooney, whose brother Tommy died in prison whilst also over tarrif.

From left to right, Charlotte Nokes, Ben Ireson, Osman Ali Hassan and Dean George.

The coroner described the circumstances of the self-inflicted death of Ben Ireson, 31, at HMP Nottingham, as 'shocking' after the inquest concluded multiple failures contributed to his death. This was despite Nottingham prison being subject to unprecedented levels of scrutiny since the year prior to Ben's death. His family were quoted in Nottingham Post.
The inquest into the death of Osman Ali Hassan, 45, concluded a failure to adequately manage his high blood pressure at HMP Wandsworth more than minimally contributed to his death. His sister said “His hypertension was allowed to get out of control, but no one seemed to do anything about it”.
Critical failures at HMP Swansea contributed to the self-inflicted death of Dean George, 40, an inquest concluded. Dean's parents told Wales Online “The jury have confirmed what we knew all along, that Dean was failed when he needed help."

Immigration detention
An inquest into the death of Prince Fosu concluded neglect contributed to his death at Harmondsworth IRC. His sudden death following hypothermia, dehydration and malnourishment is a shocking example of wholesale system collapse. We cannot treat people with such inhumanity, writes Afua Hirsch in the Guardian.
The father of Prince Fosu, Prince Obeng, spoke to BBC News about his son's death and the inquest 8 years later. Deborah Coles was quoted in the Independent “professionals who came into contact with Prince were simply unable to see the human being before them."

INQUEST in New York
INQUEST Director Deborah Coles was invited to give a presentation at the Beyond the Bars Conference at the Centre for Justice at Colombia University. There were inspiring contributions from activists and academics, providing a timely look at strategies for decarceration and how to develop a holistic and public health community response to those in mental health crises.
This also provided a welcome opportunity to meet with Debbie Kilroy, CEO of Sisters Inside Australia, and US abolitionists Ruthie Gilmore and Angela Davis to discuss our respective work.
“We don't want reforms, we want something new, different modes of justice. We need to ask what kind of society do we need in order to root out the violence that the prison system pretends to address?” Angela Davis
Deborah also met with Vince Warren, CEO of the leading civil and human rights organisation, Center For Constitutional Rights, to discuss social and racial justice, state violence, investigations, advocacy and accountability. INQUEST and CCR look forward to building a working relationship moving forwards. 

International Women’s Day 2020
Thirteen years after the publication of the ground breaking Corston review, more than 100 women have died in prison and the situation has never felt so desperate.
On International Women’s Day 2020, INQUEST sent a briefing to parliamentarians based on our report Still Dying on the Inside, calling for deaths in women’s prisons to be recognised as a form of violence against women and for imprisonment to be abolished as a response to women who break the law. It's time to invest in welfare, health and housing

Benefit deaths
INQUEST supports Rethink’s campaign calling for an independent inquiry into deaths related to the benefits system. A wide ranging review is urgently needed to ensure the actions and inactions of the state face robust scrutiny.

Farewell to INQUEST staff
This month, we were very sad to see Lucy McKay, our Senior Policy and Communications Officer, leave INQUEST. Lucy was with us for three years and played a central role in developing INQUEST’s media influencing, strategic communications, public affairs and campaigns work. She also made a major contribution to our international work, developing our new Scotland project. We wish her all the best in her new role as Communications and Public Affairs Manager at the People’s Health Trust.

Supporting INQUEST

We were delighted to be awarded a three year grant from Trust for London to support our London-focused casework and policy influencing, as well as a grant from the Allen and Overy Foundation supporting our access to justice work.
However, the COVID-19 crisis is already having a significant impact on our already overstretched resources. We are calling on the generosity of our supporters and friends to help sustain our services. If you would like to support us in our work, please go to our donation page.