Court finds no evidence of systemic failures at HMP Woodhill

On 23 May 2017 the High Court handed down judgement in the case brought by the relatives of Ian Brown and Danny Dunkley who took their own lives in HMP Woodhill in 2015 and 2016 respectively. They sought a declaration that the Governor of the prison and Secretary of State for Justice have acted unlawfully by failing to take appropriate steps to reduce the rate of suicide and an order requiring the defendants to take action to try to prevent further suicides. The court found the evidence demonstrated a series of distinct but separate operational mistakes in suicide prevention at HMP Woodhill and that different mistakes were made in specific factual circumstances. The court said that the evidence did not demonstrate a systemic failure.

18 men have taken their own lives in HMP Woodhill since May 2013; 5 in 2015 and 7 in 2016, the highest number in the prison estate.

Ian Brown committed suicide in his cell in HMP Woodhill on 19 July 2015. He was the 3rd of the 5 men to take their own lives there in 2015. The jury at the inquest into his death concluded that there was a failure to carry out the prison’s suicide prevention procedures and reviews, and this failure may have caused or contributed to his death.

Danny Dunkley was found suspended by ligature in his cell on 29 July 2016, and died on 2 August 2016 as a result of the injuries he sustained. He was the 5th of 7 men to take their own lives there in 2016. Last month an inquest jury found a series of failings caused his death including an inadequate understanding of the importance of the prison’s suicide prevention procedures across the board and the failure by the prison to implement previous recommendations.

Jo Eggleton, who acts for the Claimants and other Woodhill families said:

“My clients didn’t bring this claim to set a legal precedent or get damages. They brought it to try to save lives by forcing the prison to make the changes identified by the PPO, inquest juries and the Coroner over the years. It worked. There have been no self-inflicted deaths in HMP Woodhill this year. By this time last year, 3 men had taken their own lives. Senior managers have accepted that the response to previous deaths was inadequate and had they implemented previous recommendations sooner it may have prevented the deaths that occurred in 2016. It is important that PPO and coronial investigations ascertain not just individual failings but also whether there were wider problems. Otherwise evidence about those systemic issues may remain hidden. My clients just hope that the prison continues to improve without the looming scrutiny of the High Court.”

See BBC news story “Suicide jail failed to improve, says doctor