2nd May 2013

A jury has found that prison officers at Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution should have increased their level of observation of Billy Spiller prior to his death on Saturday 5 November 2011. The coroner at the inquest also criticised the lack of training of prison officers and has used his rule 43 powers to recommend all officers have suicide and mental health awareness training.

During his childhood Billy was variously diagnosed with learning difficulties, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He self harmed as a child and first used a ligature when he was 16 years old.

Billy had previously tried to hang himself in Aylesbury in January 2010.

Dr. Misch, a consultant psychiatrist in child and adolescent forensic psychiatry who acted as an expert witness in this case, said that Billy’s risk of committing fatal acts of self harm was exceptionally high and this risk could never be low for Billy because of his history of prolific and extreme attempts and threats to self harm. He said: “Suicide in a Young Offenders Institute is everybody’s business. Everybody should have been very worried about Billy”.

Dawn Spiller, Billy Spiller’s mother said:

“I just can’t believe that Billy was left in the care of two prison officers who had no mental health or first aid training. I wouldn’t trust them with my cat, let alone young people with mental health needs. Throughout Billy’s life I tried to get proper care and support for him but all the doors were shut in my face. From the moment he was sentenced to imprisonment, I knew that they wouldn’t be able to look after him. They should have diverted him from the courts or made sure that everybody in the prison had training to deal with him. It is really important to get rid of the stigma around mental health and to recognise that people like Billy need treatment and not punishment. I don’t believe that justice has been done for Billy. We will never give up our fight so that other people do not have to suffer like him.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“It is especially shocking that such system failings were identified and staff were not properly trained given what is known about the particular vulnerability of young people in prison. Billy Spiller is one of 145 children and young people aged 21 and under to die in prison since 2000, the overwhelming majority self-inflicted. This is why an independent inquiry into deaths of children and young people in prison must take place as a matter of urgency.”

Nancy Collins, representing the family said:

“The witnesses accepted that Billy was extremely impulsive. The prison officers considered his threat of self harm to be manipulative. Accordingly, his threats of self harm were not taken seriously, the real risk not appreciated and inadequate steps taken when he threatened to self harm. This is in spite of clear guidance that prisoners’ threats to self harm should not be regarded as manipulative.”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Billy Spiller since his death in November 2011. The family is represented at the inquest by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Nancy Collins from Irwin Mitchell solicitors and barrister Stephen Cragg QC of Doughty Street chambers.


Notes to editors:

  1. There have been 145 deaths of children and young people aged 21 and under in prison since 2000
  2. INQUEST’s October 2012 report Fatally Flawed, published jointly with the Prison Reform Trust, examines the deaths of children and young people in prison and calls for an urgent independent review.
  3. Further details about the circumstances surrounding Billy’s death can be found here