6th April 2017

On Friday 7 April, a judicial review will be heard aiming to address the high number of self-inflicted deaths in Woodhill prison. The current rate of self-inflicted deaths across the prison estate in England and Wales is at a record high, with the highest number taking place in HMP Woodhill (4).

A total of 18 self-inflicted deaths have taken place in Woodhill since early 2013, when concerns were first raised. The 18th death took place just one month after the High Court granted permission for this claim to be heard, last November. 

Relatives of two men, Ian Brown who died in July 2015 and Daniel Dunkley who died in August 2016, are asking the court to order that the Governor of Woodhill Prison and the Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss take urgent action to reduce the risk of future self-inflicted deaths. The Defendants say the order sought is not appropriate or necessary.

INQUEST has intervened in this judicial review because of ongoing concerns about the lack of a national oversight mechanism to monitor, audit and follow up actions taken in response to recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and Coroners. They have given a detailed submission to the court (available on request).

Julie Barber, sister of Ian Brown said:
“Ian was much loved. Our loss has been unimaginable. We all miss him every day. I believe if he’d had the help and support he needed he’d still be here.
Every time I hear about another death in the prison, I think why? If lessons had been learned when my brother died all those families would not have had to go through what we have had to go through. It’s hard for us to hear about more deaths. It makes me angry that suicides have happened that could have been prevented if changes had been put in place as they should have been.”


Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said:
“The number of self-inflicted deaths occurring in prisons in England and Wales is currently at record levels. It is therefore more vital than ever that preventative actions are identified, changes implemented, and sustained improvements enforced to prevent future deaths. The current system for learning lessons and implementing changes arising from deaths in custody is not fit for purpose; it does not adequately prevent future deaths, meet the hopes and needs of bereaved families, or satisfy the wider public interest.

"The deplorable situation at HMP Woodhill is just one stark example of a much wider national problem. Deaths occur time and again as a result of repeated failings. Families are told that lessons will be learned but nothing changes. The reality is that the Ministry of Justice has wholly failed to address the unacceptable rise in self-inflicted deaths. It is therefore vital that the Court intervenes to protect vulnerable prisoners and their families and to stop more and more preventable deaths from occurring."

Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn said:
“Ian and Danny’s families have shown great strength in bringing this claim.  Despite the awful ordeal they have been through they have put themselves on the line to try and protect others and prevent future deaths. They and the other families’ of men who have died at Woodhill that I represent share this common goal and have worked together to try and make it possible. They should be recognised and applauded for that. It’s just a shame that this claim has had to be brought at all.”




For further information, please contact: Lucy McKay on [email protected] or 020 7263 1111

  1. INQUEST has been working with the families of those who have died in HMP Woodhill since 2013.
  2. The claimants are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors, and Adam Straw and Heather Williams QC from Doughty Street Chambers.
  3. The High Court granted permission for the legal action in November 2016. Details available here.
  4. There were five self-inflicted deaths in HMP Woodhill in 2015 and seven in 2016, representing both the highest rate and total number across the prison estate in these years.
  5. A list of the 17 self-inflicted deaths in HMP Woodhill between May 2013 and November 2016 can be found here. The 18th death was that of Jason Basalat, aged 52 who was found hanging in his cell on 11 December 2016.
  6. Further information on the need for a national oversight mechanism on deaths in prison can be found in the INQUEST written submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) Inquiry on Mental Health: Deaths in Prison here. Harriet Harman, chair of the committee has followed up this recommendation with Liz Truss in a recent letter.
  7. There is a separate ongoing trial of a prison officer who faces charges of manslaughter and misconduct in public office over one of the 18 deaths at HMP Woodhill; Ryan Harvey who died in May 2015. The accused Joseph Travers will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court, 20 April.
  8. More information on the record number of self-inflicted deaths in prisons is available here, or in the Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody statistical bulletins.
  9. Statistics on all deaths in prison are available on our website: www.inquest.org.uk

INQUEST provides specialist advice on deaths in custody or detention or involving state failures in England and Wales. This includes a death in prison, in police custody or following police contact, in immigration detention or psychiatric care. INQUEST's policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths.

Please refer to INQUEST the organisation in all capital letters in order to distinguish it from the legal hearing.