Chelmsford Prison suicidal inmate's treatment 'despicable' say family

Dean Saunders Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Dean Saunders, pictured with his son, was taken to Chelmsford Prison in December 2015

The family of a mentally ill father who killed himself in prison have described his treatment there as "despicable".

Dean Saunders, 25, from Basildon, was taken to HMP Chelmsford in December after injuring relatives who tried to stop him stabbing himself.

They claim the decision not to detain him under the Mental Health Act and to withdraw continuous observation in prison contributed to his death.

The Ministry of Justice said the welfare of inmates was a top priority.

Mr Saunders' mother Donna said the way the prison service handled her son's case was "absolutely appalling".

His father, Mark, said his son "should never have gone to the prison in the first place".

Image caption Mr Saunders' family said the prison service's handling of his case had been "absolutely appalling"

Mr Saunders was arrested in December on suspicion of attempted murder after his father and brother were stabbed when they tried to stop him cutting his throat.

When he was taken to a police station, he again told a doctor he was going to kill himself.

But two psychiatrists he saw later were not made aware of his previous suicide attempt.

They were unable to make a referral for detention under the provisions of the Mental Health Act as Mr Saunders stated he was too tired to participate in an assessment.

This finding was disclosed in a report by The South Essex Partnership University NHS Trust (SEPT) which revealed he was suffering from severe paranoia when he told his girlfriend people were trying to harm him.

An initial assessment by SEPT staff decided he posed a risk of harming himself or others.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ministry of Justice data shows 12 inmates at Chelmsford Prison have taken their own lives since 2011

Mr Saunders' parents said when he was taken to Chelmsford Prison they made repeated attempts to alert staff to their son's intention to kill himself.

Mrs Saunders said she pleaded with staff to keep him on constant watch instead of switching to half-hourly observations.

Her son electrocuted himself in his cell on 4 January and his death is now subject to a report by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman.

According to the most recent Independent Monitoring Board report, there has been a 25% reduction in staffing at HMP Chelmsford.

Steve Gillen, General Secretary of the Prison Officer's Association, said: "It would appear Mr Saunders did have mental illness upon his arrival.

"We as a trade union have been on record as saying not enough is being done to divert mentally people from custody."

'Budget cuts'

He added: "In 2010 at Chelmsford there were 142 self-harm incidents. By the end of 2015, there were 686 self-harm incidents.

"There's a direct contributory factor in all of this which is the budget cuts and reductions in staffing levels which leads to the tragic loss in life in prisons."

Ministry of Justice data shows since 2011 there have been 12 suicides at the category B local prison - the joint third highest number in England and Wales.

A spokesman said: "Every day our healthcare staff provide support to thousands of prisoners at risk of self-harm or suicide, frequently saving lives through timely intervention.

"But as the Prime Minister said earlier this year, we must improve the way mental health problems are dealt with in the criminal justice system.

"That is why we are investing £1.3bn to transform the prison estate, while also training staff to respond effectively to prisoners experiencing suicidal, self-harm and mental health issues."

Analysis: Matt Precey, BBC News

Of the nine most recent Prison and Probation Ombudsman reports into suicides at HMP Chelmsford, six contain serious criticisms.

The investigations found repeated issues around suicide risk information not being shared or read, and inadequate monitoring.

This echoes the findings of last year's Harris Review into self-inflicted deaths in custody among 18-24 year olds, which concluded "lessons are clearly not being learned". The PPO says it doesn't have the power to compel prisons to act on their investigation findings.

Chelmsford Prison suicides

4 January 2016 Dean Saunders, 25, electrocution

4 October 2015 Ben Cathorne, 28, hanging

4 September 2015 Warren Sampson, 29 [unknown]

3 March 2015 Tony Legge, 30, hanging

23 March 2014 Wayne Roe, 29, hanging

15 November 2013 Reece Taylor, 18, hanging

3 August 2013 Anthony Quigley, 55, self immolation

22 July 2013 Patrick McCarthy, 63, hanging

15 September 2012 Joseph Corcoran, 23, hanging

16 June 2012 Edward Tula, 20, hanging

4 July 2011 Tuan An Ho, 18, hanging

9 May 2011 Simon King, 30, hanging