A High Court judge has ordered an independent public inquiry into the attempted suicide of an inmate at Feltham young offender institution.
The inmate, who cannot be identified for legal reasons but who is known as JL, was left brain-damaged after he tried to hang himself in his cell in August 2002.
Only days earlier, a risk monitoring form had been closed on JL, despite a noose being found in his cell and episodes of high-risk behaviour, the court was told last week. On the day of the incident, JL “constantly abused the cell bell” and a request to see a doctor was refused. A prison officer who saw JL with a bed sheet around his neck thought it was a scarf.
An investigation was conducted by a retired prison service governor who submitted a report in October 2002, but JL and his relatives were unaware of the document until January 2005, the court was told. Mr Justice Langstaff said the report would have remained “private” if action had not been taken by JL’s solicitor. Ordering the public inquiry, he added: “The lessons of history must be learned. The state needs not simply to hold individuals accountable but to learn its potential systemic problems.”
JL’s solicitors said the judgement would have far-reaching consequences for cases where people detained compulsorily by the state sustained life-threatening injuries. A prison service spokesperson said the Home Office was seeking permission to appeal and that it would study the judgement carefully.
He added that the government was also set to review how such cases should be investigated.
Inquiry is second in 18 months
The case of JL is the second public inquiry ordered by the courts into an attempted suicide in the prison estate in the past 18 months. An inquiry into the case of a prisoner known as D, who was brain-damaged after his suicide attempt at Pentonville prison in 2001, was ordered in May 2005.
It is expected to be heard in public next year.
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