24 May 2010

The inquest into the death of Sudanese national Joker Hagar Idris will open on Tuesday 25 May 2010 and is expected to last seven days.

Joker Idris, aged 18, was found hanging in his cell on Christmas day 2007. The day before he died he had been given a notice of intention to hold him in custody at the end of his sentence, pending deportation back to Sudan . Mr Idris had previously thought that he was going to be released from prison on 7 January, having served six months in prison for his first offence. He was handed the deportation notice, written in English, by a prison officer who was not trained in immigration matters and who failed to explain the letter’s content. I t is clear that Mr Idris, whose command of the English language was limited, was confused, angry and upset after receiving the notice.

Mr Idris was an asylum seeker from Darfur , having fled the genocidal conflict, after Sudanese government forces and Janjaweed militia invaded his village. He arrived alone in the UK aged 15 and was referred to Essex Social Services, who provided him with accommodation and care having identified him as an un-accompanied minor. Mr Idris was subsequently granted discretionary leave to remain until just before his eighteenth birthday and had an outstanding asylum application awaiting consideration.

In July 2007, when he was arrested for affray, he was found to have rows of cigarette burn marks and a cross carved into his arm. Despite this evidence of self-harm, no mental health assessment took place following his reception into prison. When he was assessed by a probation officer before being sentenced, it was recommended that Mr Idris undergo a psychiatric assessment, but this advice was ignored.

Throughout his time in custody, where Mr Idris was a victim of bullying and demonstrated self-harming tendencies, he appears to have been offered no personal support from within Chelmsford Prison or by Essex Social Services. Mr Idris’ immigration solicitor was not provided with notice of the decision to deport him and it is likely Mr Idris had no contact details of this solicitor as his previous dealings had been through Essex Social services.

According to the reply to a parliamentary question ( Hansard 30 Mar 2009 : Column 1002W), the number of self-inflicted deaths of foreign national prisoners in England and Wales in 2007 leapt to a total of 24 compared to a previous average annual rate of between six and nine, following a dramatic change in government policy regarding the deportation of foreign nationals convicted for criminal offences. Joker Idris was one of eight prisoners who killed themselves at HMP Chelmsford during the two year period between October 2006 and September 2008.

The family and the Darfuri community in the UK hopes the inquest will examine:

  • the role of Essex Social Services and their apparent failure to provide Mr Idris any support following his arrest as required under The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000
  • the systems in place at HMP Chelmsford to:

(i) provide personal officer support to inmates;

(ii) systems to tackle bullying;

(iii) the language support available for foreign nationals;

(iv) the systems in place to assess those who may be mentally vulnerable;

(v) the support specifically available for young offenders;

(vi) the support and access to support available to those subject to immigration decisions.

  • the role of the Criminal Casework Directorate of the Immigration Service in relation to the making and communication of decisions and the access of foreign national prisoners to meaningful avenues of advice and redress.

Joker Idris’ family will be represented at the inquest by INQUEST Lawyers Group members barrister Kirsten Heaven of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce and Partners.