Sixty second interview with Pauline Campbell
By Amy Taylor
Pauline Campbell is the mother of Sarah Campbell, who died in Styal women’s prison in January 2003. The inquest into Sarah’s death concluded this week.
Do you think that the verdict from the inquest is appropriate?
Yes, I think the verdict is appropriate. The jury found that Sarah died as a result of a toxic level of anti-depressant (Dothiepin) in her bloodstream, and that her death was unintentional – not suicide. In other words, it was a “cry for help” that went badly wrong. The verdict was accompanied by a damning narrative, plus coroner’s recommendations.
Do you think the inquest covered all the issues around Sarah’s death?
The inquest, held over 11 days, heard very disturbing evidence about the callous disregard shown towards Sarah’s needs as a very vulnerable teenager. My daughter arrived at Styal on 17 January 2003, and died in Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, the following evening. In that short period of time, she was vomiting, fitting, and had several cardiac arrests, before being pronounced dead. However, I am satisfied that the inquest covered all the issues around Sarah’s tragic death, which amounted to a damning catalogue of failure.
Sarah was on the segregation unit at the time of her death despite her being on suicide/self harm watch. What are your views on this?
The segregation unit, ie the punishment block, was where Sarah spent the last hours of her life, and where she collapsed, dying, on 18 January 2003. Staff shut the door on her after she had over-dosed, leaving her alone in the cell – ignoring the risk that she could have choked to death on her vomit. Described as bleak, soulless places – prisons within prisons – it was an entirely inappropriate place to accommodate Sarah, especially as she was on ‘suicide watch’.
Do you think that a “thematic review” of use of segregation in women’s prisons, which the inquest’s coroner Nicholas Rheinberg suggested, will help to prevent the inappropriate use of segregation occurring in future?
A ‘thematic review’ of the use of segregation in women’s prisons might help to prevent a recurrence of such a shocking tragedy. But it is only part of a very bleak picture, whereby prisons are being used as dumping grounds for some of the most vulnerable women in society. There are wider issues that need to be addressed.
The coroner also said that he will suggest to the authorities that reports of investigations into non-natural deaths in prison should be given to staff. Do you agree with this?
Reports of investigations into non-natural deaths in prison, providing they are accurate and well-written, could helpfully be given to staff, if only to raise awareness about the very serious issues involved when someone dies in their care.
Given that Sarah was one of six women who died at Styal prison from August 2002 to August 2003, what do you think are the underlying problems with sentencing guidelines and the prison system?
There are three main problems:
(i) women are being given custodial sentences inappropriately;
(ii) once sentenced, some women are wrongly located within the prison system, as was the case with Sarah; and
(iii) far too many women are remanded into custody at a time when they are legally innocent.
What changes do you think need to be made to the system to prevent future deaths in custody and are you going to continue campaigning to achieve them?
The three problems mentioned above, if addressed, would go a long way towards preventing future deaths in custody. Also, it would be helpful if the Home Secretary would take a clear and sustained political lead to deal with the appalling situation in our jails – particularly the crisis in women’s prisons. Meanwhile, whilst women continue to die ‘at the hands of the State’, I shall continue to campaign.
Do you think that adequate changes have been made since the deaths of the six women to ensure that women currently held at Styal prison are safe?
One can only hope that women currently held at Styal Prison are ‘safe’. It is difficult to know whether adequate changes have been made since the deaths of the six women, but information passed to me from current and past prisoners suggests there is still cause for concern. The situation at Styal must be kept under review and closely monitored over a much longer time period.