2 November 2018

On Monday 5 November two significant inquests into the deaths of women in prison will resume. Jessica Whitchurch, died a self-inflicted death on 20 May 2016 in HMP Eastwood Park, days after being found with a ligature in her cell. Natasha Chin was found unresponsive in her cell in Sodexo run HMP Bronzefield on 19 July 2016. Both deaths took place in the year which saw the highest number of deaths in women’s prisons on record.

The inquest into Jessica’s death will take place Before HM Coroner Maria Voisin in Avon Coroners Court, North Somerset from 10am. Jessica was from Nailsea near Bristol. Her family describe her as a fun and optimistic person who loved life but faced many difficulties. While in prison she was diagnosed with a personality disorder and severe depression. Jessica was 31 years old when she died at HMP Eastwood Park and had a history of mental ill health and addiction. Her death was one of seven in the prison in 2016. This year there have been two further deaths at Eastwood Park since.

Emma Whitchurch, Jessica’s sister said: “Jess was the most caring person we have been lucky enough to know and we have always been proud to call her our sister. Jess had difficulties and demons in her life which she struggled to cope with. As her family we hope that there will be a rigorous investigation into all the circumstances of her death and that lessons can be learnt so that other families can be spared what we have had to endure.”

The inquest into Natasha’s death will take place before HM Assistant Coroner Caroline Topping at Woking Coroners Court from 10am. Natasha, a black woman from Islington in London, was 39 years old when she died in HMP Bronzefield. Her family describe her as a lovely person who enjoyed making people laugh. Natasha had alcohol and drug dependencies, a history of depression and poor physical health. Natasha had been extremely unwell in prison, and evidence suggests she rang her cell bell during the evening, but this went unanswered for over three hours. She was found unresponsive in her cell after being in prison for only 36 hours.

Since Natasha’s death in 2016 there have been three further deaths at HMP Bronzefield. Like Natasha, they were found unresponsive in their cells and the inquests into their deaths are yet to take place. The inquest into a 2015 death at HMP Bronzefield opened on 29 October at Woking Coroners Court and is ongoing.

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.”

Both inquests have been opened and adjourned previously. It is hoped that after over two years they will finally conclude, so the families can hear the full truth about what happened.

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said: “It is essential that these inquests provide proper scrutiny to the circumstances surrounding the untimely deaths of Natasha and Jessica. All too often prison is the default response to women who need support. As limited government action on the deaths and harms in women’s prisons continues, we believe these inquests will add to the plethora of evidence on the urgent need for change.”  



For more information and to note your interest, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or here.

In May 2018 INQUEST published Still Dying on the Inside: Examining Deaths in Women’s Prisons. The report 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.

In June 2018 the Ministry of Justice will today launched a long awaited ‘Female Offenders Strategy’. INQUEST responded, saying much of the strategy was unsubstantive, empty rhetoric.

Since the 2007 publication of Baroness Corston’s seminal review on women in the criminal justice system, which was hailed by many as the blueprint for change, there has been little long-term systemic change and many of the recommendations she made have yet again been ignored. In the period since her review was published there have been 102 deaths in women’s prisons.

Jessica Whitchurch inquest details:  

Before HM Coroner Maria Voisin
Avon Coroner's Court. The Courthouse, Old Weston Road, North Somerset, BS48 1UL
Opens 10am Monday 5 November 2018. Expected to close 23 November
Note, the court is not sitting on 12, 13, 14 November

INQUEST has been working with the family of Jessica Whitchurch since her death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Clare Richardson of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors and Sam Jacobs from Doughty Street Chambers.

Other interested persons represented at the inquest are the Ministry of Justice, Bristol Community Health and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health NHS Partnership Trust.

Jessica’s family spoke to the BBC about her life in March. You can read the interview here.

Natasha Chin inquest details:

HM Assistant Coroner Caroline Topping
HM Coroner’s Court, Station Approach, Woking, GU22 7AP
Opens 10am Monday 5 November 2018. Expected to last twenty days.

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 Maria Roche of Doughty Street Chambers.

Other interested persons at the inquest are Sodexo who run the prison, Cimarron who provide GP agency services, a GP and several nurses and prison officers, some of whom are separately represented.

More information about the inquest into the death of Natasha Chin can be found here.