Ison Harrison/Harrison Bundey Inquest law specialist Ruth Bundey last week represented the mother of an 18-year-old who died while in custody, at an Inquest into the death of Charlie Todd at HMP Durham on 2nd September 2019. The Jury concluded that Charlie‘s death was one of misadventure.

Charlie was found dead from self-inflicted injuries in the Care and Separation Unit (segregation) at HMP Durham at approximately 4.00pm, six hours after he had been transferred to the unit. Charlie was unresponsive when found, having ligatured, but his family had concerns over his treatment prior to his death, and also the record of the prison in implementing corrective actions from previous inspections, which had followed similar incidents of self-inflicted death.

HMP Durham failings

Figures published on 29 April 2021 showed a record high of 154 deaths in prison in the past quarter in England and Wales, and also a 42% increase in deaths in the past 12 months. At HMP Durham specifically, there have been 42 deaths of men since 2015, and 17 of these were found to be self-inflicted. In September 2018, an inspection found safety issues and a lack of action on recommendations which had been actioned as a result of previous self-inflicted deaths.

Charlie was not being monitored at the prison under suicide and self-harm procedures upon being transferred to segregation, and prior to being found dead. The family therefore had questions relating to Charlie’s treatment in general, and more specifically why he was sent into segregation. These concerns led the mother and family of Charlie to seek answers from the Inquest upon:

  • The transfer of Charlie to the Care & Separation Unit and the assessment required.
  • The monitoring of Charlie’s wellbeing at the prison, including checks in the hours prior to his death whilst in segregation.

Inquest findings

The Inquest heard that Charlie had a history of self-harm and depression before his sentencing for burglary and motoring offences. However he reported no current thoughts of suicide or self-harm and did not wish to be referred to the mental health team at the prison when asked. In addition, prison staff had no concerns over his mental health, the Inquest heard.

Charlie was referred to the separation unit because he had been found in possession of illicit substances, but he claimed he was holding these for somebody else. However, when Charlie was sent to the separation unit he received no face-to-face assessment and the unit was under-staffed at the time, with only two members of staff on patrol rather than the usual four. As a result, Charlie did not receive the hourly checks from staff that he normally would have.

Nationally-renowned Inquest Lawyer

Ruth Bundey has been a qualified lawyer since 1980 and has forged a formidable and highly respected reputation for representing victims of domestic violence and those facing injustice by virtue of race, gender or political belief. This has included many high profile cases, including representing families of the Hillsborough Disaster. Ruth now specialises in Inquest law, and  in representing families of people who have died in custody.

The Inquest started on Monday 6th September and finally concluded that Charlie’s death was by misadventure, suggesting that he did not mean to take his own life. There was some evidence that self-harm was a means by which prisoners could be returned to the normal wing where they would be more closely visible and monitored, away from the separation unit.

A handsome loving boy

Charlie’s mother described her son as “a handsome loving boy who loved to tell a story and would put a smile on the face of anyone who met him. He was a cheeky-chappie and was one of the boys, happy go lucky and loyal, he would do anything to help or please others with or without his struggles. He was loved and will be missed infinitely.”

In response to the Inquest verdict, Charlie’s mother added: “This week was about getting truth and justice for Charlie and our family. The prison had a duty of care and failed him massively. Like most teenagers, Charlie had his struggles and battles, sometimes making the wrong choices along the way.

Charlie will never get to make things right and live his life. There were missed checks from prison staff and a mental health nurse failed to assess him before he went to segregation. Charlie was a vulnerable young lad who we believe was targeted by other older prisoners and bullied. All of these were missed opportunities by the prison to help support and save him. Some good has got to come from this. I’d like for significant changes to be made so no other family have to go through this nightmare. My son was 18, just a boy, with his whole life to live. Changes need to be made and fast.

I’d like to thank the few prison staff who tried to help Charlie and cared for his welfare. To the staff who found Charlie and have been affected by what they dealt with, I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart. Without the help of INQUEST and Ruth Bundey, things would have been missed and evidence gone unheard. I’m truly grateful for everything they have done for me and our family.”

Ruth Bundey also commented: “Crucial for the family was the conclusion of misadventure, showing that Charlie never intended to die. But it is a regret that the jury did not provide any further detailed findings of fact, other than those known before the inquest even began.”

If you have similar concerns about how a family member has been treated while in custody, contact Ison Harrison today for expert help and advice.

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