Before Christopher Sutton Maddock, Assistant Coroner for Kent and Surrey
HM Coroner’s Court, Station Approach, Woking, GU22 7AP 

Opening date Wednesday 16 May 2018 – expected to last 10 days
 
Natasha Chin is described by her family as a lovely person who loved making people laugh. She was 39 years old when she was found unresponsive in her cell in Sodexo run HMP Bronzefield, on 19 July 2016. The inquest into her death opens on Wednesday 16 May.

Natasha had been recalled to prison for missing probation appointments and not residing in the accommodation approved by probation. She had alcohol and drug dependencies, a history of depression and poor physical health including asthma and epileptic fits. She had been in prison for only 36 hours before she died.

Natasha, a black woman from Islington, became unwell after entering the prison and was noted as suffering from withdrawal. The next day her condition deteriorated. She was vomiting excessively and was reported to be perspiring, out of breath and unsteady on her feet. She rang her cell bell during the evening but this went unanswered due, it would seem, to a problem with the cell bell system. This problem appears to have been known by some, but not all staff. It was not known to the night time officer in charge of Natasha’s wing that night. Around three and a half hours after she rang her cell bell, a prison officer and a nurse who entered her cell to deliver her medication found her unresponsive and she could not be saved.

Natasha’s family hope the inquest will address the following issues:

  • What the cause of Natasha’s death was.
  • The extent to which the prison’s response to her withdrawal symptoms and ill health contributed to her death.
  • Communication failures between staff.
  • The failure of the cell bell system.
  • Whether an earlier intervention could have saved Natasha’s life.

Marsha Chin, Natasha’s sister said: I hope the inquest will thoroughly examine the circumstances of Natasha's death to help us as a family understand why she died, and whether anything could have been done to prevent her death.”
 
Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said“The vulnerability of women in prison is well documented and they are owed a duty of care. There have been previous concerns raised by coroners and investigation bodies around the treatment of drug dependency in this private prison. This inquest must offer proper scrutiny into the circumstances surrounding Natasha’s death and how she came to die within 36 hours of entering the prison".

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:
 
For further information or to register your interest please contact Sarah Uncles on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]

INQUEST has been working with the family of Natasha Chin since her death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Megan Phillips of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Alison Gerry of Doughty Street Chambers.

Sodexo (who run the prison and are responsible for both discipline and healthcare), Cimarron who provide GP agency services, and a doctor will also be separately represented.
  • Natasha was one of nine women to die at HMP Bronzefield since 2010. One of these deaths has been classified as self-inflicted, six as non self-inflicted and two awaiting classification.
  • In relation to the death of Sarah Higgins at Bronzefield in 2010, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s investigation concluded that prisoners undergoing methadone maintenance programmes should be checked regularly if they report as unwell.  
  • Poignantly, this week marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of Pauline Campbell, a formidable campaigner who fought to prevent the imprisonment of vulnerable women and to hold the state to account for preventable deaths. Her work was pivotal in the setting up of the Corston review after her daughter was one of the six women to die in Styal prison. She was a great advocate for INQUEST and she was dedicated to supporting other families. 
  • On 1 May, INQUEST launched a new report, Still Dying on the Inside, which calls for urgent action to save the lives of women in prison. It highlights the lack of action from successive governments to prevent deaths and puts forward a series of recommendations to close women’s prisons by redirecting resources from criminal justice to community-based services.