Welcome to INQUEST’s latest E-Newsletter

This is the first newsletter in 2016, and offers a chance to reflect on 2015 and highlights the work we have already started this year.  We draw particular attention to:

  • The worrying increase in deaths in prison in 2015; raising serious questions about suicide prevention, bullying, substance misuse and violence, which indicate an alarming deterioration of conditions with the prison system. Already in 2016 there have been eleven self-inflicted deaths in prison.  
  • A rise in the number of deaths involving contact with police in circumstances that have already been identified as potentially dangerous; indicating the lessons already learnt are now being lost.
  • The treatment and care of people in mental health settings, as well as the investigation process of deaths.  Consequently in our statistical analysis we show an increase in the number of families contacting us for advice and assistance.
  • Recent inquests into deaths in custody and detention which we have been involved in have found systemic failings in the treatment and care of vulnerable people. Time and again the same failures are repeated pointing to the lack of an effective mechanism to monitor, audit and follow up recommendation from the investigation and inquest process, resulting in a lack of effective learning and accountability. A full list of our press releases can be seen here.

INQUEST opened 436 new cases in 2015, 37 more than were opened in 2014, an increase of 9%. 241 were new custody cases (including 131 prison, 36 police, 53 detained psychiatric patients and 2 immigration detainees), an increase of 50 (up 26%) from 2014.

Our total caseload (including cases remaining open from previous years) was 893, 96 more than were ongoing in 2014, an increase of 12%. 587 of these were custody cases (including 333 prison, 101 police, 121 detained psychiatric patients and 12 immigration detainees), an increase of 103 (up 21%) from 2014.

For all details of INQUEST’s recent work see also latest news and press releases, as well as updates on our facebook page and twitter account.

Timeline of Policy Updates and INQUEST’s Campaigning Work 
February 2016
Deborah Coles speaks on Radio Five Live Investigates behind bars program
INQUEST director, Deborah Coles, highlighted the unacceptable number of deaths in prison as part of the BBC's Radio Five Live Investigates program on Sunday 7th February. You can listen to the whole program here.

Deborah Coles speaks on Channel 4 News piece into the death of Sara Read at HMP Holloway
Deborah Coles called for an investigation into the role of state agencies that failed Sarah Read, who died in HMP Holloway. Her death marks a disturbing increase in the number of self inflicted deaths of women, the highest since 2007 when the Corston Report was published. You can see the piece in full here.
January 2016
Allegations at Medway Secure Training Centre – institutional child abuse 
The shocking allegations relating to the abuse and ill treatment of young people in Medway Secure Training Centre were made worse by what they reveal about the complete failure to learn from earlier inquiries into deaths and serious mistreatment of children and young people. We were quoted extensively in the media and on 14 January we co-signed a letter published in the Times with representatives from Article 39, YoungMinds, Children England, The Who Cares? Trust, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, Just for Kids Law and the British Association of Social Workers calling for an independent inquiry into child prisons.

In the House of Commons on 11 January Andy Slaughter MP raised an urgent question on safety in prisons and secure training centres to the Justice Secretary Michael Gove and referenced INQUEST's comments that in any other setting the treatment “would be child abuse” and that “this points to a lack of accountability and culture of impunity”.

INQUEST speaks at rally to defend legal aid system

On Wednesday 6th January, Deborah Coles chaired a panel at the Justice Alliance ‘Voices for justice’ Rally which brought together over 400 justice campaigners in a renewed call to protect and promote our legal aid system. Speakers included survivors of state and corporate abuse, human rights lawyers, trade unionists and NGO workers, united by the vital role legal aid has played in their battles for justice and accountability. Among the speakers were Marcia Rigg, brother of Sean Rigg who talked powerfully about her battle for truth and justice, the intrusive nature of applying for funding for representation at her brothers inquest, the inequality of arms with her legal aid lawyers facing x other legal teams. The work of Justice Alliance has been a powerful and effective campaign against legal aid cuts.

December 2015
Government’s response to the Harris Review
The government response to the Harris Review disappointingly rejected many of the expert panel’s key recommendations.

Out of the 108 recommendations made by the Harris Review, 33 were rejected by government while others were prevaricated on.  Among the rejections were: the refusal to provide non-means tested public funding for family legal representation after a death in custody; and failures to address issues around the lack of oversight, accountability and learning lessons from previous self-inflicted deaths.
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST and a member of the Harris Review panel said:
“This is a complacent response to a report that offered an opportunity to make a break from the lamentable failings of the past. It is dismissive of those families, prisoners and others who contributed to this evidence based review.”
Read press release here.
We continue to work hard to influence this debate and together with bereaved families gave evidence to the parliamentary Justice committee Inquiry into Young Adult Offenders. We were clear that without fundamental change in the way young people are treated by the criminal justice system the deaths will continue.   
INQUEST responds to Report of Review of Deaths at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
On 17 December, a ‘Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability Deaths at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust April 2011 – March 2015’ was published. The review followed the preventable death of Connor Sparrowhawk in July 2013 and was commissioned by NHS England.
INQUEST is working with Connor’s family since shortly after his death and this long awaited report is  an indictment of the Trusts practices. Among its key findings are:

  • lack of systematic control over the reporting of deaths and the investigations that follow;
  • 64% of investigations did not involve the family;
  • A lack of leadership and focus within the Trust on reporting and investigating unexpected deaths;
  • Learning from deaths of service users could not be demonstrated;

Read our press release here.

The report reinforces concerns INQUEST has raised with successive governments about the failure to investigate the deaths of extremely vulnerable people in the care of the state. INQUEST’s casework shows that this is a systemic problem and not isolated to one rogue trust.  Deborah Coles has called for a national inquiry into mental health and learning disability deaths. This call was supported by Andrew Smith MP who is constituency representative of Sara Ryan, Connor Sparrowhawk’s mother  – ask your MP to support our call too.
The following day our letter was published in the Guardian on the inquiry call.
We have now met with Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, alongside Sara Ryan to reiterate our view that there needs to be an independent investigatory body set up in relation to mental health and learning disability deaths.

On the Road

INQUEST Director speaks at Communications Workers' Union
On 17 October 2015 Deborah Coles, spoke at the  Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) Black Workers' Conference in Glasgow, alongside Dave Ward, CWU General Secretary and Graham Campbell, from the Ethnic Minority Civic Congress.

Deborah Coles spoke about the death of Sheku Bayoh in Kirkcaldy following restraint by police officers on the morning of Sunday 3 May 2015 in the context of other deaths of black men in similar circumstances. The event had a fantastic turnout, and trade unionists from the across the UK engaged in an important discussion about race, the use of force by police officers against BAME groups, and the rising number of deaths in police custody.

Parliamentary meeting on restraint related death of Sheku Bayoh
On October 29th Deborah Coles joined Roger Mullin MP for the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency, Sheku Bayoh’s family lawyer Aamer Anwar and members of the family to speak at a packed parliamentary meeting about his death following restraint by police and the investigation process. Speaking on the role of race, Deborah, identified the disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic deaths in restraint related incidents. Marci Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg from the United Families and Friends Campaign was also there to show her support for the family.

INQUEST Director Attends Hillsborough Inquest
On 1st February Deborah Coles attended the first day of summing-up at the Hillsborough inquest. INQUEST have been liaising with families and their lawyers throughout the inquest process. For all updates on the inquests, including transcripts of each hearing date, you can visit the Hillsborough Inquest website here.

Family Voice

INQUEST Family Forums
Following the successful family forum in 28 November 2015, INQUEST is preparing for the next forum to take place in the Spring.  In November, 50 families and friends from across England came together to reflect on their thoughts and experiences following a death, and to support others at different stages of the inquest process.

There was overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants about the value of these sessions:
‘’The day is always very useful as you are meeting people that have been through a similar experience so there is no stigma or judgements made. These days are my form of counselling and help me tremendously.’’ 

‘’I believe that INQUEST is invaluable to the families that are going through this process. I feel that the day always goes too quickly.”

‘’The group chat was so excellent & insightful – it is so rare that we are offered a platform in which just to listen, empathise and cry amongst other similar people.’’

The day ended on a positive note, as we presented our Skills and Support Toolkit (see below). Thank you also to Equally Ours, an organisation set up to promote the importance of human rights, who delivered a presentation on the benefits of the Human Rights Act to bereaved families going through an inquest.

For more information on our Family Forums please see click on this link or please contact us on [email protected]

Family involvement in the Independent Review
As part of our work advising the Chair Dame Elish Angiolini, on the Independent Review, we have arranged a number of Family Listening Days for families of those who have died in and following police contact to share their experiences and advice.  This month we will hold two events which give families the opportunity to feed directly into the Independent Review and be heard directly by the Chair, Dame Elish Angiolini.  We are also conducting an extensive review of all the literature, previous inquiries, reports and other relevant material.

INQUEST Skills and Support Toolkit
In December INQUEST launched its new Skills and Support Toolkit, to widespread acclaim. The toolkit forms part of a project supported by the Big Lottery Fund.

This an interactive, user led resource for family and friends going through the inquest process. Whether it be getting paperwork organised, speaking in public for the first time, attending meetings or asking for support, the toolkit acts as a guide for families facing the daunting investigation and inquest process.
Families have the opportunity to practice existing skills, or try out new ones like dealing with the press and media, contacting their MP, or working with other families to campaign for a fairer system. You can access the toolkit here.

The toolkit has received widespread praise from families, legal practitioners and campaigners and has featured in various newsletters, such as Clinks and the Criminal Justice Alliance. Some of the positive comments include:
What a brilliant thing it is to see the Skills Toolkit now fully online and accessible - This will be a fantastic resource for affected families... Well done.
Tippa Naphtali, bereaved relative and founder of 4WardEver UK

A summary of INQUEST and INQUEST Lawyers Group (ILG) responses to consultations

  • Parliamentary Justice Committee Inquiry into Young Adult Offenders. In October, based on our longstanding expertise and extensive involvement in the Harris Review, we submitted further evidence on the vulnerabilities of 18-24 year olds in prison custody and the lack of accountability or oversight to prevent the high number of deaths among this age group;
  • The Law Commission’s Consultation on Mental Capacity and Deprivation of Liberty. Submitted in November INQUEST and ILG raised concerns in our response about the proposals to restrict the number of inquests into the deaths of people who were subject to Deprivation of Liberty safeguards (DOLS);
  • Post-implementation Review of the Coroner Reforms in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. In December INQUEST submitted evidence on the changes brought in since the implementation of coronial reforms in 2013, and documents existing problems affecting bereaved families’ experience of the inquest process;
  • In December, INQUEST responded to the HM Inspectorate for Police Custody (HMIC) and HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) consultation on its revised draft inspection document ‘Expectations for Police Custody’.  The draft is said to reflect and draw on 6 years of experience of police custody inspections conducted jointly by HMIP and HMIC, with a particular focus on the treatment and welfare of vulnerable people in police custody.  Most significantly the new inspection document seeks to extend the custody inspection regime to the first point of contact (i.e pre police station contact) with strengthened focus on the treatment of children and vulnerable adults.  INQUEST casework has seen a continuing and significant increase in the number of highly contentious police deaths involving vulnerable detainees.  We welcome the increased role of the HMIC/HMIP in assessing and monitoring police treatment of vulnerable people at all stages of police contact and await publication of the final report after which we will publish our response. 

We plan to publish all INQUEST responses to consultations on our website.

MOJ reports a further increase in prison deaths, assaults and self-harming incidents
New statistical data published by the Ministry of Justice, on 28 January 2016, shows a further spike in prison deaths, homicides and self-harming incidents (also includes figures for Immigration Removal Centres operated by NOMs). In the 12 months to December 2015 there were: 

  • 257 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 14 more deaths compared with 2014;
  • 89 recorded self-inflicted deaths, the same as in 2014;
  • 8 apparent homicides, the highest number since records began;
  • In the 12 months to end of September 2015 there were also 30,706 reported incidents of self-harm, up by 5,945 incidents (24%) on the same period in 2014.

See further information on the INQUEST website here.
In December the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody published its annual statistical overview of deaths in custody and detention. The statistics reveal 8,129 deaths in custodial/detained settings between 2000 to 2014, the majority (59%) of which were patients detained under the MHA (4801). The second highest (34%) were within prison settings at 2,728.

These two reports form the context for our experience of increased calls for our help. INQUEST statistical monitoring reveals the following:

INQUEST is aware of a total of 257 prison deaths in England & Wales in 2015. Of the total, 25 were BAME, 10 of which were self-inflicted, 10 non-self-inflicted, 2 were homicides and 3 are awaiting classification. There were 7 deaths of women in prison, 5 of which were self-inflicted, 1 non-self-inflicted and 1 still awaiting classification. There were 17 deaths of prisoners aged 18-24, of which 16 were self-inflicted and 1 non-self-inflicted.

Of the 257 Prison Deaths, 89 were self inflicted (including 1 immigration detention centre death), which is the highest figure of self-inflicted deaths recorded in a calendar year since 2007.
146 were non-self-inflicted, 8 were homicides and 1 was a death following restraint. 

There were 28 deaths in police custody or following contact with the police in England and Wales in 2015. Of these, 6 were from BAME background and 2 were female. 3 people were shot dead by police in England and Wales in 2015, while 7 died in police vehicle incidents.

These figures are based on INQUEST's casework and monitoring and may be revised in light of updated information, including from the IPCC.

More detailed figures can be found on INQUEST's website at www.inquest.org.uk/statistics

Please give your support to this fund for families

INQUEST continues its support for the National Mikey Powell Memorial Family Fund appeal that was launched on 7th September, the twelfth anniversary of his death in the custody of West Midlands Police. The fund will provide small grants to give practical help to families affected by deaths in UK state care and custody.  Find out more or make a pledge to the fund here.

Organisational News
At the end of last year we welcomed Natasha Thompson as trainee caseworker, Patrick Hoare who joined us as temporary casework assistant and Nogah Ofer, as a senior policy officer/researcher for the duration of the Independent Review of Deaths in Police Custody. This year we welcome Raji Hunjan as our new Operations Director. We also say a sad goodbye to our wonderful and long standing Co-Director, Helen Shaw.  Together with Deborah Coles, Helen has led INQUEST to become the successful and respected organisation it is today. We wish her well for the future and are pleased that she will retain a link with INQUEST as one of our Associates.  We must also thank our policy volunteer Emma who makes a significant contribution to our policy work.

Supporting INQUEST

“What can I say? A group of people who are dedicated, passionate, experienced and committed, bringing a shed load of expertise, networks, ideas and action. In the background, INQUEST. A remarkable organisation. Unobtrusive, non-intrusive and quietly and efficiently effective. A perfect mix for the recently shell-shocked.”

Mother of 18 year old Connor Sparrowhawk who died in a specialist NHS unit.
People regularly express surprise that INQUEST is such a small organisation, believing we are a larger and well resourced organisation. The opposite is true – we have seven full time and three part time staff and we need every penny to keep the organisation going. We are really grateful to all our donors and grant givers and your support can make a really significant difference to the work we do and the impact we have.
If you can, please make a donation or become a regular giver - any gift, no matter how small, contributes to securing INQUEST’s future. It's easy and secure to do via our JustGiving page or via CAF online. 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.