29th November 2013

The inquest into the death of Helen Waight at HMP Bronzefield concluded on 27 November 2013 with the jury finding that Helen died of natural causes.

Helen died aged 33 leaving five young children.  She was discovered unresponsive in her cell on the morning of 7 March 2011 and efforts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.  Helen was pronounced dead at St Peters Hospital, Chertsey.

In the course of the inquest concerns were raised by the family about the poor quality of record keeping and the standard of healthcare that was afforded to Helen at HMP Bronzefield.  In particular, the family heard worrying evidence from healthcare staff that crucial reception screening results were not recorded and that important decisions were made about Helen’s treatment for her drug dependency without face to face clinical reviews taking place.  The inquest also heard that systems in respect of cell bells were unreliable and as a consequence it could not be determined whether Helen had called for assistance in the minutes before her death.  

Jane Waight, Helen’s mother, said:

“We had to wait for two years and eight months to find out what happened to our daughter and the circumstances in which she died at HMP Bronzefield.  This long period of waiting has been unbearable for the family.   Helen was a wonderful mother and daughter.  She was a happy, bubbly person.  She  fought really hard to tackle her addiction to drugs.  She wanted residential detox which was not provided for her.   It was simply wrong that she was put in prison instead of being given proper support for  her addiction.  After her death, I had to give up my full time job to look after my five grandchildren.  We miss Helen greatly.  The devastation that her death has caused me and my family cannot be put into words.   We remain very unhappy with the standard of care which our daughter received in prison.  We hope no other family ever has to endure the same pain and suffering”.

Jasmine Chadha, solicitor for Helen’s family, said:

"It is of great concern that Helen’s was the second of two inquests where strikingly similar evidence was heard in respect of the quality and standard of healthcare provided at HMP Bronzefield.  It is hoped that the changes implemented by the prison service will now ensure that the same issues do not arise in future."

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“Helen’s inquest is the fourth in a series of inquests into the deaths of women in prison, all highlighting the same thing: that prison is no place for vulnerable women, and alternatives need to be found as a matter of urgency.”

INQUEST has been working with Helen’s family since 2011.  Helen’s family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jasmine Chadha and Megan Phillips of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Alison Gerry of Doughty Street Chambers.


Notes to editors:

  1. Helen Waight’s death is included as a case study in INQUEST’s report ‘Preventing the deaths of women in prison: the need for an alternative approach’ published earlier this year.
  2. Helen Waight was the second woman to die at HMP Bronzefield in a ten month period. The inquest into the death of Sarah Higgins, the first woman to die, concluded recently, with a jury finding serious failings by the prisonhad contributed to her death.