Inquest hears shocking details of HMP Chelmsford prisoner’s treatment by staff after taking overdose

An inquest has found that allowing a vulnerable prisoner with a history of self-harm and a previous victim of serious assault and bullying in prison to have medication in his possession contributed to his death while he was an inmate at HMP Chelmsford.

David Morgan, 35, died in Broomfield Hospital on August 30, 2018 – eight days after falling unconscious in a holding cell, where prison staff ignored his condition and mocked him as he was dying.

Mr Morgan became unwell after being told he would be transferring to HMP Wayland, where he told prison staff that feared for his life from former associates.

Despite Mr Morgan’s concerns and requests to go to hospital – and it being widely recognised in national prison policy that transfer to a new prison is a particularly vulnerable time for prisoners – HMP Chelmsford staff did not take any steps to investigate his fears.

As a result Mr Morgan took an overdose of medication which had wrongly been prescribed to him “in possession”. He informed a prison officer he had done so, handing over two empty pill packets. These packets were handed to a supervising officer, who was persuaded by other officers to carry out an internet search for the drug, Baclofen.

In the inquest the supervising officer denied that he had ever seen the blister packets and the packets, which one officer said were simply thrown in the bin that morning by the supervising officer, were never found.

Despite an attempt to call prison healthcare, no healthcare staff ever attended Mr Morgan’s cell on the prison wing.

During the morning of August 22, 2018 Mr Morgan called his mother from the phone in his cell, telling her he was terrified of moving prison; that he had taken an overdose and was being ignored.

Mr Morgan’s mother telephoned the prison to raise her concerns, although the inquest heard there was no evidence that any action was taken or anyone informed. Prison staff attempted to contact healthcare but the nurses made no effort to prioritise Mr Morgan as a medical emergency and failed to check his prescription records.

National prison policy dictates that prison staff must begin Assessment Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) procedures – aimed at reducing self-harm and violence amongst prisoners – as soon as they receive any evidence which may indicate a risk of self-harm. In clear breach of policy, this procedure was never started – one prison officer gave evidence that he was specifically told not to open an ACCT by the same supervising officer.

At the inquest, the current Governor of HMP Chelmsford, Garry Newnes, accepted that Mr Morgan should not have left the wing and that an ACCT should have been opened as soon as staff were informed of the overdose.

Instead, he was forcibly restrained, screaming in pain and telling prison staff he was “off his nut on medication” and needed to go to hospital. He was then forcibly escorted in handcuffs so that he could be transferred.

Body-worn video footage taken en route to reception captured Mr Morgan repeatedly telling prison staff he needed to go to hospital. Staff continued to restrain Mr Morgan without asking him what he had taken or even acknowledging his overdose.

Officers from Mr Morgan’s wing in the prison told the inquest that they alerted reception staff to the fact that Mr Morgan had taken an overdose of his medication. One reception officer made a call to healthcare to alert them that someone was coming in ‘under the influence’ and that they required a nurse at reception.

HMP Chelmsford

When the nurse arrived, the same officer gave evidence that she told the nurse in person that Mr Morgan had taken an overdose of his medication.

Mr Morgan was strip-searched in the prison reception. By this time body-worn video footage captured him looking dazed, confused, distressed and unable to speak or respond. Mr Morgan vomited into a bin whilst prison staff were heard on video telling him he was “drunk” or “pissed”.

One officer laughed loudly at Mr Morgan, saying “had a bit of the old bubble hooch haven’t you?” (a reference to illicit alcohol brewed in prison) – to which Mr Morgan was unable to respond.

The nurse in charge of prison healthcare that day, who was present and looked on during this strip search said of Mr Morgan: “He does always look this gormless”.

Mr Morgan was then taken to a holding cell in reception, where his condition deteriorated over a period of three hours before an ambulance was finally called.

CCTV and body-worn video footage shows that, during that time, Mr Morgan was mocked, laughed at, imitated and ignored, and referred to as “this idiot” and “acting like a child” by a nurse and various prison staff when he was barely conscious, seriously injured, covered in blood and screaming in pain.

As the effects of the medication overdose took hold Mr Morgan lost control of his body, repeatedly smashing his head hard against the floor and metal bench in the holding cell, breaking his nose and causing injuries to his face. At one point Mr Morgan fell over and fractured both ankles.

Throughout this time, the nurse in charge that day remained outside the cell, at no point does the nurse enter to check on Mr Morgan, to attend to his wounds or to protect him from further injuring himself.

Prison officers passed by the cell or stood outside drinking cups of tea and laughing together – giving evidence that the nurse told them an ambulance was not required. Various prison officers said they continued to believe that Mr Morgan was simply drunk on “hooch”, and denied that they were ever aware that Mr Morgan had taken an overdose.

Governor Newnes, told the inquest he accepted that the treatment Mr Morgan suffered was “nothing short of inhuman and degrading”, and that there had been a total failure of healthcare and prison staff to discharge their duty of care towards Mr Morgan.

Despite the fact that only three prison officers were disciplined following Mr Morgan’s death, Mr Newnes accepted that there should have been disciplinary action against all officers involved with Mr Morgan on that day, including those at a senior level.

The inquest was also told by the current head of Prison Healthcare, Paula Unwin of Castle Rock Group, that the culture of the prison healthcare provider at the time, Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT) – which is currently the subject of a non-statutory independent inquiry – was “toxic” and “dysfunctional”; that “bullying” from management was commonplace, and that and prescribing practises were unsafe and often misunderstood by prison GPs.

One experienced prison officer gave evidence that healthcare at HMP Chelmsford was the worst he had ever seen in his career.

Eventually, after being in a holding cell for over two hours, a healthcare assistant (a junior member of the healthcare team who was not a qualified nurse or medic) arrived on shift and told the inquest she was “shocked” at the state that Mr Morgan was in.

She entered the cell to check Mr Morgan’s observations, clean his wounds and ensure that he was kept in a safe position without causing further injury or damage to himself. She also asked prison staff to contact an ambulance.

The ambulance arrived shortly after 2pm by which time Mr Morgan was in the deepest level of coma measurable.

Mr Morgan was taken to hospital where treatment was unsuccessful, and he died eight days later of multiple organ failure as a result of a multiple drug overdose.

Mr Newnes, offered an apology to Mr Morgan’s family and acknowledged that the lack of any such apology in nearly four years was “shocking”. EPUT declined to offer the family an apology.

David’s mother, Gloria Philpot, said: “As a mother, it is unbearable to know how my son was treated. Until this inquest I had not realised the severity of David’s treatment.

“Over the past few weeks, I have heard how ill and terrified David was. Listening to the evidence of the inquest in detail has been absolutely harrowing. He was pleading with staff to help him and take him to hospital. He was ignored and mocked by those who were meant to take care of him. I cannot understand how anyone can treat another human in the way that David was treated and I hope no one else at HMP Chelmsford or any other prison will be treated in the same way.

“We were devastated that the coroner removed from the jury the chance to say whether David’s inhumane treatment contributed to his death, based on the incomprehensible evidence of the clinical reviewer, Dr Susan Robinson.

“We will always believe that if David’s genuine fears about being transferred to a new prison had been handled sensitively, and if timely and high-quality medical care had been provided to him as soon as he told them had taken an overdose, he might be here today. He was neglected, pure and simple.

“Too few officers were disciplined for their role in David’s death; Essex police failed to prosecute anyone despite years of delay; the nurse in charge avoided giving evidence on health grounds; and now the Coroner has prevented the jury – who asked brilliant questions throughout the inquest – from speaking their mind.

“Nothing will bring David back but we will not give up on justice for him or other families, and we will now be bringing legal proceedings against the prison and healthcare for their flagrant breaches of his human rights.”

Gimhani Eriyagolla, Associate at Hodge Jones & Allen, representing David’s family said: “David’s shocking case highlights multiple failings in his care. There were failures at an institutional level from both healthcare and prison staff. The footage of David in such distress and so clearly in need of help is horrifying, and the actions of prison officers and healthcare staff was entirely inexcusable. They lacked basic competence, leadership and communication but most importantly, they lacked compassion and decency.

“It has been accepted by the current governor that this treatment was inhuman and degrading.

“Governor Newnes and the current Head of Healthcare have promised that much needed wide-reaching changes have already been implemented since David’s death in 2018. They must hold true to this promise, so that no one else will ever be treated in the way that David was and there are no further avoidable deaths in prison.”

Mick Ferris

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