26 January 2018

Before South Staffordshire Senior Coroner: Andrew Haigh
County Building, Martin Street, Stafford, ST16 2LH
Opens 10am, 29 January 2018. Expected to last for 5 days.

Sarah Burke, known to her family as Maria, was 48 when she was found dead in HMP Drake Hall on 11 November 2016. Sarah was from Wood End, Coventry and was remanded to HMP Peterborough before being transferred to Drake Hall. She had been in the prison for only 8 days before her self-inflicted death.

Sarah was a mother of four and was described by her family as kind and loving. She experienced multiple bereavements, with the death of two of her brothers, a sister, and her father. The loss of her family members had a profound effect on her. Sarah self-harmed, was alcohol dependant and struggled to cope.

Sarah was initially remanded in HMP Peterborough, a private prison run by Sodexo Justice Services, in September 2016. This was her first time in prison. She arrived in custody accompanied by paperwork highlighting her risk of self-harm and suicide, but protective measures were not put in place for her to manage this risk.  On 18 October, Sarah appeared in court, and was convicted and sentenced to 3 years in custody. She told court staff that she would kill herself.

Upon return to Peterborough however, Sarah was still not placed under suicide and self-harm management procedures or offered any support. On 3 November she was transferred to Drake Hall, where she reported that she was being threatened by other prisoners but it appears no actions were taken. Sarah died of self-inflicted injuries after only 8 days in Drake Hall. There are questions around a gap between Sarah being reported missing and a search of her room taking place, and a further delay in the emergency response when she was found.

The inquest will explore issues including:

  • Any missed opportunities at both prisons to support and care for Sarah;
  • Assessments of Sarah’s risks of self-harm or suicide;
  • The management of anti-bullying and violence reduction procedures at HMP Drake Hall;
  • The search for Sarah on the day she died and the emergency response.

Deborah Coles, Director of Inquest said:
“This inquest must answer important questions around how the mechanisms intended to keep vulnerable prisoners safe, once again fell by the wayside. Every inquest on a death in a women’s prison is important for us as a society to understand the life and death consequences of sending women like Sarah to prison rather than investing in diversion and community services.”


For more information or to register your interest contact the communications team Lucy McKay and Sarah Uncles here.

INQUEST began working with the family of Sarah Burke shortly after her death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Karen Rodgers from Tuckers solicitors and Tom Stoate from Garden Court Chambers.