14 January 2011

The inquest into the death of James Connolly, also known as Jimmy Sullivan, will start on Monday 17 January 2011 and is listed for ten days.

James “Jimmy” Connolly, aged 23, died on 8 January 2008 on the B Wing in HMP Chelmsford, where he was serving a two year prison sentence for driving offences.

Jimmy had a long history of mental illness, but was able to manage well in the community, with the support of family, friends, and local outreach teams. In custody, Jimmy had been identified as someone who was at serious risk self harm and he had made a number of attempts to kill himself in the past. Prison staff noted that Jimmy’s “risk of death [from self harm] was extremely high.”

Jimmy was transferred from HMP Bedford to HMP Chelmsford in October 2007, where he spent the majority of his time on the healthcare wing, often monitored by constant observations. Jimmy was keen to fully take part in the courses available in prison but in reality coped badly on the wing. On at least two previous occasions when he was moved from healthcare to the wing, Jimmy threatened to kill himself and/or attempted to self harm within 24 hours of being placed on the wing and had to be transferred back into healthcare.

On 8 January 2008 Jimmy was again moved from healthcare to the wing. He was placed in a single cell but remained under hourly observations by prison staff. At 9.25pm Jimmy rang his cell bell and told an officer that he was hearing voices. The officer asked him what the voices were saying, and Jimmy said the voices were telling him to kill himself. The officer spoke briefly to Jimmy and then left, stating he would return in a while. On his return approximately half an hour later he found Jimmy hanging from the cell window bars with a ligature made of bedding.

Jimmy’s family hope the inquest will examine:

  • The appropriateness of placing Jimmy on the wing given his previous attempts to self harm and his risk of rapid deterioration.
  • The decision to place Jimmy in a single cell on the wing.
  • The lack of any, or any adequate, formal handover process to ensure the risk Jimmy posed to himself whilst on the wing was passed onto the prison officers responsible for his safety.
  • The potential systemic failures at HMP Chelmsford in caring for prisoners at risk, including potential inadequacies in training, staffing and guidance.

There was a significant  number of self-inflicted deaths in HMP Chelmsford at the time of Jimmy’s death.

Fran Butcher, Jimmy’s partner and mother of his two children, said:

Jimmy was a kind and loving father and partner. His family and friends remain devastated by his death, which has left a massive hole in my family that will never be filled. Nothing will ever make up for the loss we have suffered, but we desperately hope that our efforts to obtain the truth about Jimmy’s death will also ensure better care for vulnerable prisoners in the future, and prevent other families suffering in the way we have.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

This is a very disturbing death of a young father with mental health problems.  The inquest must answer the key question of concern of why Jimmy was sent to Chelmsford Prison which was unable to keep such a vulnerable person safe. This death, like previous deaths, raises real concerns about the fundamental failings and treatment of vulnerable prisoners.

James Connolly’s partner and children are being represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members counsel Marina Sergides of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Kat Craig of Christian Khan Solicitors.