The year has begun with a succession of damning inquests, official reports and media coverage about unsafe systems of care and detention, and systemic institutional failures. As always, our expert casework team are working hard to ensure families affected have access to specialist legal, practical and emotional support. So far in 2018 we have opened 95 new cases, meaning we now have over 700 active cases.

This month we launched a new INQUEST strategic plan which outlines our priorities for the period 2018 to 2021, the year of our 40th anniversary. It highlights our mission and goals, as well as key projects and how we will deliver them. The collective experiences of the families we work with and our broader monitoring informs all our work. Most recently we submitted evidence to the Justice Committee for their inquiry on prison populations, which you can read here.

In this edition:
  • Prisons - No time for complacency
  • Policing - families denied accountability
  • Gross failures in multi-agency care
  • Empowering families
  • Grenfell updates
  • Other news

Prisons: no time for complacency

Lack of professionalism and failures in care at New Hall prison:  Emily Hartley, aged 22, was remanded in prison for setting fire to herself, her bed and curtains. We brought it to the attention of the Coroner that a decade before he had heard the inquest on the death of Petra Blanskby, a vulnerable 19 year old who had also been imprisoned for arson and died at the prison in 2003. Read more…

Responding to the inquest conclusions, INQUEST Director Deborah Coles said: 
“For decades, recommendations from investigations, inquests and the Corston review have not been acted upon. Ten years ago to the day, at the inquest of Petra Blanksby the very same coroner read out remarkably similar conclusions. The coroner urged the prison and health service to invest in therapeutic settings. Yet nothing has changed. This is a life or death issue for public policy, which government cannot continue to ignore.”

The families of both women spoke to Channel 4 News in an incredibly moving piece which you can watch in full here.

Failings in HMPs Drake Hall and Peterborough: Maria Burke, aged 48, died just 8 days after her arrival at HMP Drake Hall. The jury identified a failure to monitor and assess suicide and self-harm risk at both HMP Peterborough and HMP Drake Hall and evidence was heard about the negative impact of the recent closure of Holloway. Read more…

Self-harm in prisons continue to soar: Responding to the latest Ministry of Justice statistics on safety, deaths and self-harm in custody, we said‘While we welcome a reduction in deaths since the record-breaking highs of 2016, the number has simply returned to a level consistent with patterns over recent decades. Deaths in prison remain a morally indefensible systemic issue across the prison service. The rate of self-harm continues to soar. Now is not the time for complacency. Read more…

Broken prisons in a broken system: Nottingham and Liverpool: The Chief Inspector of Prisons issued their first ‘Urgent Notification’ to the Secretary of State demanding that he intervene on the ‘fundamentally unsafe’ Nottingham Prison, where ‘lives are at risk’.

Deborah Coles, spoke to Channel 4 News, describing HMP Nottingham as, ‘a broken prison within a broken system’. Sharon Whitford, the mother of Marc Maltby, also gave a powerful interview to BBC Radio 4 Today. Marc, 23, was the fifth man to die at Nottingham prison in just one month last year. Listen here (from 1:09).

In January the inspectorate also published a damning report on HMP Liverpool. INQUEST trustee Professor Joe Sim discusses the report on our blog.

A complacent, brutalising and degrading system: Responding to the coverage on Nottingham and Liverpool, in a letter to The Guardian, we wrote; ‘The only way to halt the morally indefensible tide of prison deaths and safety concerns is to dramatically reduce the prison population, invest in community alternatives and transform the nature and culture of prisons’

At the end of December, also in The Guardian, we criticised the government for lack of action on the numerous investigations; ‘coroner after coroner has highlighted repeated, systemic failures and the inappropriate use of prison for a range of different groups who should simply not be there.’

Policing: families denied access to justice and accountability

 A number of recent decisions have once again raised serious questions about processes for holding the police to account.

Officer involved in death of Sean Rigg attempts to resign prior to misconduct hearing: The High Court is today considering an unprecedented second attempt by a police officer to avoid possible gross misconduct proceedings by allowing him to retire. The officer will argue that delays in bringing disciplinary proceedings outweigh the requirement for the processes. We note in our press release that such logic would punish bereaved families for the state’s failure to hold the police to account in a timely manner.

Activist, public speaker and writer, Marcia Rigg, shares reflections on a decade of fighting for justice for her brother Sean in the latest INQUEST family blog.

Devon and Cornwall officers to face gross misconduct action following the death of Thomas Orchard. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have directed Devon and Cornwall Police to bring disciplinary action against six officers involved with the detention and restraint of 32 year-old Thomas Orchard, who died in October 2012. This and an overview of the case so far was covered in the Daily Mail. Read more in our press release here.

CPS decides not to charge Sussex officers involved in the events surrounding Duncan Tomlin’s death. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that criminal charges will not be brought against any of the Sussex police officers involved in the events surrounding Duncan Tomlin’s death. Read more…

Rashan Charles: CPS decide against assault charge. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the police officer seen on CCTV forcibly detaining Rashan Charles on the night that he died will not face a charge of common assault. Responding to the decision, Deborah Coles said: “The routine lack of criminal action following police deaths is the single greatest source of anger and pain for families who expect and demand a system capable of delivering justice and accountability.’ Read more…

Gross failures in multi-agency care

Inquest into the premature death of Richard Handley identifies gross failures in care. Richard Handley had Down’s Syndrome and a history of mental ill health. He died in November 2012, aged 33, from complications arising from constipation. Richard’s family were interviewed in a very poignant piece on BBC Breakfast which you can watch here.
The coroner found gross failures in treatment at Ipswich Hospital and that changes in Richard’s care led to significant worsening of his condition. Read more…

Empowering families

Family reference group: The new year has seen the relaunch of INQUEST’s family reference group. Unifying families with direct experience of a contentious death, the group will be led by individuals with diverse experiences of the inquest process, organising justice campaigns, and offering family peer support. Our Family Engagement and Participation Officer, Ayesha Carmouche, will support the group and drive our engagement with families to ensure their voices continue to be at the heart of our policy and strategic work. Read more...

Grenfell updates

Voices of the bereaved must be listened to: Back in December, along with bereaved families and survivors we called for the appointment of Inquiry panel members to reflect the diverse, cultural and religious makeup of the community affected. This was reiterated by the Inquiry Chair and Counsel when they said that the bereaved, survivors and residents needed to be at the heart of the Inquiry.

Despite this, Theresa May turned down the request for a diverse Inquiry panel, which we described in The Independent as a “disgraceful and wrong-headed decision which sends a message out to the bereaved and survivors that their voices have still not been listened to”.

INQUEST continues to work with bereaved families and survivors of Grenfell, and their legal representatives. We are grateful for the recent feedback from Grenfell Action Group:

“The Grenfell Action Group would like to thank INQUEST for their assistance to our community at a time of dire need. The experience and specialist knowledge provided by Inquest gave clear and vital information to a traumatised community that allowed residents and bereaved family members to make informed choices about accessing proper legal support.”

The next procedural hearing is expected to take place on 21 and 22 March 2018. More information is available on the inquiry website here.

In other news…

  • Our caseworker, Anita Sharma, joined Young Legal Aid Lawyers at the event ‘Deaths in State Care: Access to Justice and Inquests’ to discuss fighting for justice for bereaved families. You can see the highlights on this twitter thread.
  • We are very grateful to the Tudor Trust for awarding us a two-year grant towards our policy work. Alongside our new family participation project, the project it funds will ensure that the voice of the families is taken forward and feeds into our systemic change work.
  • The INQUEST team have had a busy month commenting in the media. If you’d like to see more of what we’ve been saying see all our latest coverage here.

Supporting INQUEST

"Inquest was there right at the start. It gave me the support, the information and knowledge I needed to know the long battle ahead to fight for truth and justice for my darling brother was going to succeed."

- The latest five star facebook review from a family member

INQUEST are independent of government, and entirely reliant on grants donations to continue our vital work. Any amount you give will help us meet the high and growing demand for our help, advice and expertise. If you'd like to support our small team to do more of the work, outlined above, please consider donating here.