Thursday, 20 July 2017
Press Release: Sarah Reed Inquest Verdict
Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice
PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Justice for Sarah Reed begins with health and prison services being held accountable for deaths in custody.
Sarah Reed, a young black woman with a history of mental illness, detained on remand in a single occupancy cell in the healthcare unit of Holloway Women's Prison, was found dead on 11th January 2016. The prison has since been closed. Sarah’s illness was precipitated by the premature death of her six-month-old daughter in 2003, when she and her partner were dispatched from a children's hospice with their deceased baby wrapped in a quilt to find an undertaker. Sarah's mental health deteriorated as a consequence of this trauma. She was also the victim of a vicious assault by a Metropolitan Police Officer, PC James Kiddie in 2012. He was subsequently charged, convicted and dismissed from the police force. This incident further exacerbated Sarah's condition, as did her arrest for an alleged assault whilst defending herself against a sexual attacker in a secure mental health unit.
The inquest into Sarah Reed’s sudden death was held at City of London Coroners Court. It started on Tuesday, 4th July and concluded on Thursday, 20th July 2017. The jury's verdict found that The Inner London Crown Court’s processes of obtaining psychiatric medical reports were not sufficiently timely. The jury found the delay “particularly difficult to understand”. If a timely Fitness to Plead Assessment had been performed as requested by the court, then Sarah Reed would not have suffered a mental health crisis in HMP Holloway and would have received appropriate treatment within a mental health hospital. The jury concluded this delay significantly contributed to her subsequent death. The jury also found that the Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) review delays and failures were contributory factors to Sarah’s death, in particular the reduction of observations despite her worsening psychotic condition. They found the reduction of Sarah’s anti-psychotic medication to have been appropriate initially, but strongly criticised the subsequent failure to consider safer alternatives. The jury also found that HMP Holloway staff failed to respond to a request from Dr Timms to review Sarah’s anti-psychotic medication in a timely manner. These failures left Sarah in a distressed state without appropriate treatment. Finally, the jury considered HMP Holloway’s inexplicable decision to cancel Sarah’s visits with family and friends especially detrimental.
Sarah’s legal team was exceptional, however the search for the truth is often frustrated by a lack of resources for families in terms of legal and evidential expertise. We believe the inquest evidence presented, outlining the ways in which Sarah’s behaviour was assessed and managed, the withdrawing of her medication, and the punishments and segregation to which she was subjected are highly disturbing. It paints a distressing picture of the inhumane way a Black woman with mental illness was treated in prison. Sarah’s case, like the cases of Dean Saunders and David 'Rocky' Bennett before her, have highlighted systemic failings of care for people with mental illness and institutional racism within prisons.
The Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice has been supported by a number of individuals, groups and organisations, in particular the social movement Blaksox, Women In Prison, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK, and Gender, Education and Enterprise Development for Africa (GEEDA). As far as the Campaign and Sarah’s family are concerned, the facts relating to Sarah’s death remain largely unexplained.
We make the following urgent demands:
1. The Government should commit to ensuring nobody with severe mental illness should be placed in a police or prison cells.
2. Urgent modernisation and reform of the Coroners’ inquest courts processes to give greater equity and justice to victims’ relatives.
3. That Coroners’ inquests recommendations need to be mandatory and enforced by law.
4. In the event a prisoner is identified as having a mental health crisis requiring transfer to hospital, that this takes place within two (2) hours and treated as an emergency, as is the case with a physical medical crisis.
5. That no prisoner identified as mentally ill and/or on suicide watch is screened off as punishment, isolating them from human contact and cutting off visibility when they most need it.
This inquest has left serious questions unanswered:
1. How did Sarah, a woman in poor physical health commit suicide by strangling herself and maintain the pressure past the point of unconsciousness whilst lying face up on a bed, within a ten-minute window?
2. Why were key reports such as Fitness to Plead and important psychiatric assessment reports delayed, causing significant harm to Sarah?
3. Why did Holloway Prison psychiatrist, Dr Darren Bull determine that Sarah was not psychotic, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
4. Why was there a substantive and critical delay in transferring Sarah from Holloway to hospital once a decision was made that she was in need of urgent medical treatment?
Donna McKoy, Chair of the Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice said, “Sarah would be alive today had the Coroners' inquest recommendations been considered mandatory and been backed by the force of law.”
Kate Paradine, CEO of Women in Prison asked, “’What was she even doing in prison in the first place?’ This is the question we at the charity Women in Prison hear most often whenever a woman dies in prison. In 2016, 22 women died in prison with 12 of these taking their own lives. Tragically, their stories are remarkably similar - histories of trauma, abuse, mental ill health and self-harm; often in prison on remand or sentenced for non-violent crimes (84% of all prison sentences for women) – mostly for theft like shoplifting. …The inquest into [Sarah’s] death tells the story of a completely broken system.”
Patricia Lamour MBE of GEEDA pointed out that “Sarah Reed was remanded in custody for the sole purpose of a psychiatric report to assess her fitness to plea. The inordinate delay in processing these reports was a material factor in the circumstances surrounding Sarah's death. No woman, no mother, in fact nobody suffering from mental illness should be detained in either a prison or a police cell.”
Sarah Reed Campaign member Claudia Manchanda said, "I sat through the inquest and heard several examples of what appeared to be evidence of perjury and poor practice by a range of statutory agencies. I think that the evidence given to this inquest should be the basis of charges of perjury, internal disciplinary measures and dismissals, where appropriate."
Zita Holbourne, Sarah Reed Campaign Trade Union liaison officer and Chair of BARAC UK, said that "the gross injustices Sarah experienced, leading to her unexpected death have been of great concern to the trade union movement and, in recognition of the fact that Sarah died because she was black, a woman and disabled due to her mental ill-health, four emergency motions have been carried at the TUC Black Workers, Women & Disabled Workers conferences. The evidence heard at the inquest leaves more questions unanswered. Sarah's family deserves to know the truth."
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST stated: “Sarah Reed was an extremely vulnerable black woman with a long history of mental ill health. …. The state’s responsibility for deaths goes beyond the prison walls and extends to failures in mental health and substance abuse provision, sentencing policies and the failure to implement the Corston report and invest in alternatives to custody.”
Viv Ahmun of Blaksox called on the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to publish the long overdue report into Black deaths in custody saying, "It's high time the Home Secretary addressed the deepening anxieties of victims and the wider public about the growing number of controversial black deaths in custody. Sarah Reed is just one of many and it is vital that lessons are learned and urgent reform implemented as a matter of priority."
Lee Jasper said, “The horrific treatment of Sarah Reed whilst on remand in HMP Holloway constitutes cruel and unusual punishment of a young black woman suffering mental ill health. The jury’s findings identified critical failures by prison and mental health staff that substantively contributed towards the death of Sarah Reed.”
Lee Jasper 07984 181 797
Zita Holbourne 07711 861 660
Patricia Lamour 07508 950 589
Claudia Manchanda 07947 306609
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