25th February 2011

The jury sitting at Surrey Coroner’s Court at the inquest into the death of vulnerable teenager Chay Pryor in HMP High Down concluded on Wednesday 23 February 2011.   The jury heard concerning evidence about the last few days and hours of Chay’s life and found that he took his own life.  The following issues were of particular concern in this inquest:

  • Chay was placed on the Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) procedures for those at risk of self harm or suicide following an act of self harm a few days before he died.
  • Chay took the ligature with him from his cell. He was not searched before being taken in the early hours of 23 August 2008 to speak with the Samaritans in the multi-purpose Listener’s Suite. All prisoners are now searched before being taken out of their cells at night.
  • It remains uncertain whether Chay was checked by staff during his 53 minute telephone call with the Samaritans.
  • Prior to Chay’s death a prisoner raised concerns about the ligature points in the Listener’s Suite. These concerns were recorded but not acted upon.
  • Expert evidence confirmed that when a prisoner asks to speak with the Samaritans staff should assess whether it is safe to leave them alone and unsupervised to speak to the Samaritans.

Christopher and Kay Pryor, Chay’s parents, said:

Our family remains totally devastated by Chay’s death.  We assumed Chay would be safe in HMP High Down and that the Prison Service would act upon any information it received about his vulnerabilities. Every parent has the right to mourn the loss of their child. Due to the inadequacies of the investigations into Chay’s death and our outstanding questions we feel that we have been robbed of this right. We will never give up the fight for proper public scrutiny of all the circumstances surrounding Chay’s death and the shortfalls within the prison system.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, said:

What is particularly disturbing about this case is the evidence heard about the potential opportunities to intervene that were missed which could have made a difference to Chay at a time of extreme vulnerability. Chay was the fifth vulnerable young person to be found hanging in HMP High Down in a 15 month period; it is vital that lessons be learnt and acted upon to prevent any further deaths.

Nancy Collins, the family’s solicitor, said:

The inquest heard critical evidence indicating that steps could have been taken to prevent Chay’s death and it is telling that the prison has now amended its procedures to address risky practices then in force. It is disappointing that HM Coroner chose to reject the submissions made on behalf of the family that a narrative verdict was required in this case. No reasons were given for this decision.

The parents of Chay Pryor were represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members counsel Nick Stanage of Doughty Street Chambers, instructed by Nancy Collins of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.