Welcome to the March-April edition of the INQUEST e-newsletter.

Deaths in prison has been a theme running throughout the last two months. Following the announcement of the independent review into the deaths of young people aged 18-24, we have continued to call for the review to include children in its remit. Thursday 24 April saw the broadcast of the documentary ‘Dead Behind Bars’, examining the deaths of three young people, Jake Hardy and Ryan Clark both aged 17, and Adam Rushton aged 20. The documentary was inspired by INQUEST’s 2012 report, Fatally Flawed, which examined the deaths of children and young people aged 24 and under. We have been working with the documentary makers for over a year, introducing them to families and advising them throughout development and filming. The film had a fantastic response, 547,000 people watched it and the Twitter reaction was extraordinary: 300 posts reaching 565,832 unique followers. There was also broad coverage across news and media outlets ahead of the broadcast. The film was shown the day after the Chief Inspector of Prisons released a scathing inspection report of Brinsford Young Offender Institution stating ‘these are the worst overall findings my inspectorate has identified in a single prison during my tenure as Chief Inspector’. Brinsford YOI was where Adam Rushton died.  Two weeks previously a damning jury conclusion was returned at the inquest into the death of 17 year old Jake Hardy. The jury found 12 individual failings by the prison and concluded unanimously that his death could have been prevented. In light of the ruling INQUEST’s co-director Deborah Coles co-wrote an article with the barrister for the family and INQUEST Lawyers Group member Dexter Dias QC calling on the government to rethink the exclusion of children from the review.

We have been raising serious concerns about the disturbing rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison, which has doubled in a year. We arranged for Lee Jarman, the brother of Kevin Scarlett, to take part in a Radio 5 Live discussion in early April when our concerns were first raised and have been continuing to raise the issue across social media and with high profile individuals. As a result, on 29 April a letter was published in the Guardian signed by leading musicians calling on the Justice Minister to investigate the causes of the rise as a matter of urgency. The following day the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman published two reports examining failures identified following investigations into self-inflicted deaths in prison, and also noting the rise – we responded by reiterating the need for urgent public scrutiny of the crisis.

In March the IPCC published its final report of its review of investigations involving a death in police custody. INQUEST has worked intensively since the review began in Autumn 2012 to ensure that both INQUEST's and the INQUEST Lawyers Group's critique of the IPCC, and individual families’ experiences, were properly represented in the review. The resulting report is testimony to the success of this strategy as this critique is embedded throughout the report. However we are clear that this is a pivotal moment for the IPCC and we will monitor progress on the long term changes needed to the way deaths in police custody are investigated.

Nearly nine months after a jury ruled that Jimmy Mubenga had been unlawfully killed, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) finally announced in March its intention to prosecute the three G4S guards involved in his restraint for manslaughter. Neither G4S nor the Home Office will face corporate manslaughter charges. In responding to the decision INQUEST highlighted the importance of legal aid in enabling scrutiny of his death and its impact in reversing the initial decision of the CPS not to prosecute. However we remain concerned about the inherent delays in CPS decision-making on cases involving a death in custody. We highlighted this in some strategic media work on 30 April, which marked nine years since the police shooting death of Azelle Rodney. Despite the CPS having access to the evidence amassed during the inquiry into his death for over a year, a prosecution decision has still not been made. The family of Sean Rigg are also still experiencing serious delays: in April, over a year after three police officers were arrested on suspicion of perjury and perverting the course of justice, the IPCC finally completed its investigation into their conduct at the inquest and has passed files on two of the officers to the CPS. However the IPCC has yet to begin its fresh investigation into Sean Rigg's death despite announcing it in December 2013, over five and a half years since his death at Brixton police station in August 2008 and a year after the independent Casale Review heavily criticised the original investigation.

The flawed implementation of cuts to legal aid remains a key area of work for INQUEST. We have been working with the family of Cherry Groce, whose shooting by police officers in 1985 sparked the Brixton riots. Cherry died in 2011, and a pathologist concluded her shooting directly led to her death. Despite this, her family were refused legal aid with the Legal Aid Agency arguing there was no public interest and the family could represent themselves. This is illustrative of a number of flawed decisions we are seeing by the Legal Aid Agency. Intensive interventions by INQUEST, the family’s MP Chuka Umunna, and an online petition that amassed over 134,000 signatures forced the LAA to back down but the fact that it took such a high profile campaign is deeply troubling. As part of our work in this area, the INQUEST Lawyers Group met with the Chief Coroner in March where funding issues were raised, and work is ongoing with him to take these issues forward.

INQUEST staff participated in a number of high profile meetings and events in March and April. Deborah Coles addressed the National Custody Conference on Policing and Mental Health in Lancashire, discussing issues raised by INQUEST's casework on deaths in police custody, and about issues arising from prison deaths at the national conference of the National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards. She also gave an address at the UK National Preventive Mechanism conference, outlining the need for a proper system of learning and accountability from deaths involving the state. In March, Deborah chaired a packed question and answer session with Vicky Pryce at the Women of the World festival on the South Bank in London, with a focus on the treatment of women in conflict with the law.

Don't forget: links to INQUEST's media coverage are available on our website

Supporting INQUEST

We urgently need your help to continue our important work. We would really encourage readers to make a donation or become a regular giver - any gift, no matter how small, contributes to securing INQUEST’s future and sustains our support for bereaved families. Please give generously, however you can, it's easy and secure to do via our JustGiving page. If you are a tax payer and you Gift Aid your donation, the government will give us 25p for every pound you donate – at no extra cost to you. Thank you.


We are delighted that Brenda Campbell, longstanding INQUEST supporter and member of the INQUEST Lawyers Group, who is part of the legal team representing families at the Hillsborough inquests, is running the Rock n Roll Liverpool marathon on 25 May in aid of INQUEST. - Her 26.2 mile endeavour is particularly poignant in light of the Hillsborough inquests and she plans to salute each of the 96 as she runs past Anfield.Please support Brenda in this impressive undertaking! Her donation page is here


The fresh inquests into the deaths of the 96 men, women and children who died following the Hillsborough disaster began at the end of March. INQUEST has been active in working behind the scenes to support those who have been working alongside the families since the disaster happened, in particular longstanding INQUEST advisors Professor Phil Scraton, who played a key role in sustaining the struggle to overturn the original inquests and to establish the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and INQUEST Lawyers Group member Raju Bhatt, who was a member of the Panel. We have been working closely with the legal teams in the run-up to the new inquests providing advice and resources.  INQUEST has also supported some of the families, and held a workshop in Liverpool ahead of the inquests, to offer families a chance to come together to share their hopes and concerns and for INQUEST to offer practical advice and support and provide a safe space to come together to share anxieties and concerns. We attended the opening of the inquests and some of the ‘pen portraits’, which were moving personal family statements. There is a transcript of all the evidence heard on the official website .

INQUEST's casework team opened 91 new cases in March and April 2014, up from 71 in the first two months of this year. Of these, 33 were enquiries relating to deaths in custody requiring our specialist casework service and 58 non-custody cases. Of the custody cases, one was a death in immigration detention, 11 were deaths in psychiatric settings, 3 police custody deaths and 16 deaths in prison. 

New cases continue to reflect the rise in self-inflicted deaths in prison, issues relating to the treatment of immigration detainees, and concerns over the care of detained and voluntary psychiatric patients.

Deaths in prison
The disturbing rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths continued into March and April with 31 self-inflicted deaths reported so far this year. The total number of deaths in prison reached 67 at the end of April, including four women

We have also recently been informed of several deaths that occurred in 2013. This brings the total for last year to 215, the highest number of prison deaths in a year on record.  There were 74 self-inflicted deaths in 2013, the highest number since 2007.

Deaths in police custody
There have been six deaths in police custody so far this year, three custody deaths, one road traffic incident and two deaths related to a police pursuit.