20th June 2013

A jury at the inquest into the death of Nicholas Wheller at HMYOI Aylesbury has said neglect contributed to his death.

Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Wheller was 19 years old when he was found hanging in his cell in YOI Aylesbury on 16 March 2011.  Nicky had an emotionally unstable borderline personality disorder and was a self harmer.  Shortly before he took his own life, he passed a note to a prison officer and asked him to hand it over to a fellow prisoner.  The note said that he was going to kill himself unless he talked him out of it.

The jury at the inquest found that contrary to what he said in his evidence, the prison officer did in fact read the note and thus should have checked on Nicky, contact a senior member of staff and move Nicky to safety as well as keep an ongoing record of the events. For this reason the jury concluded that his death was contributed by neglect. They also listed a number of failings at HMYOI Aylesbury including insufficient training especially in terms of management of suicide risk, inadequate record keeping and sharing of information, failure to provide or procure appropriate medical care, gross failure to provide or procure medical attention for someone in a dependent position and multi-disciplinary failures.

The coroner Richard Hullet indicated that he will make rule 43 recommendations on the retention and preservation of CCTV evidence, mental health awareness, CPR and suicide management training for relevant members of staff.

This is the third critical inquest verdict into a self-inflicted death of a vulnerable young person at YOI Aylesbury since the end of 2008. Last month the jury hearing the inquest into the death of Billy Spiller, who also died at YOI Aylesbury in 2011, was critical of the failure to increase observations prior to his death. The inquest into the death of Jon Campbell, who was 18 years old when he died on Boxing Day 2008, also returned a critical verdict.

INQUEST’s statistics record that, since Nicky Wheller died in March 2011, there have been 34 other deaths of young people aged 18-24 years old in prisons in England and Wales. INQUEST’s figures also show that 86% of those deaths, included Nicky Wheller’s, were self-inflicted and a quarter of the young people who died had been identified by prison authorities as being at risk of self-harm or suicide.

Nicky Wheller’s family said:

“We have waited over two years to find out what happened on that tragic night and now we have finally got to the truth and we would like to thank the jury for that.

“Nicky was too vulnerable to be in prison. He had learning difficulties and serious communication problems. We feel that his death was wholly preventable and that he was badly let down by the prison service. He passed a suicide note to a member of prison staff which clearly stated that he intended to hang himself. He needed help that night and he did not get it. The jury have found that that prison employee knew what was in that note and failed to take any action. If he had done, we would not be here today. We can only hope that lessons have been learnt from Nicky’s death and that no other family has to go through such a heartbreaking ordeal. This should not happen again. We hope that other families like us feel reassured that justice has been done today.”

A spokesperson for INQUEST said:

“This is the third inquest heard into the death of a young man at YOI Aylesbury since 2011. We hope that this strong neglect verdict will finally move HMYOI Aylesbury into making real changes in the way they manage vulnerable young men to prevent similar tragedies.”


Notes to editors

  1. INQUEST has conducted extensive case and policy work on the deaths of 18-24 year olds in prison. In October 2012, we launched the in-depth research report Fatally Flawed, published jointly with the Prison Reform Trust, which examines the deaths of children and young people in prison between 2003 and 2010 and calls for an urgent independent review.