Belmarsh prison deaths - report reveals action still not taken

PUBLISHED: 09:35 03 March 2011 | UPDATED: 09:46 03 March 2011

HMP Belmarsh Prison

HMP Belmarsh Prison

2004 Getty Images

The sister of a young prisoner who died after being restrained by prison officers is demanding action after a report revealed recommendations made following his death have not been implemented.

Godfrey Moyo's sister Lomaculo Moyo and his mother Kessie Moyo outside Southwark Coroner's Court in 2009

Epileptic Godfrey Moyo, 25, who was on remand, died after being restrained face down on the floor at Belmarsh prison in Thamesmead, for approximately 20 minutes following a fit in his cell in January 2005.

The family had to wait more than four years for his inquest where they heard prisoner officers give evidence as well as GPs and paramedics.

But on Monday a report published by the Independent Monitoring Board revealed that Coroner Andrew Walker’s recommendations to the government have still not been implemented. This includes revising the national control and restraint guidelines across the whole prison service.

Lomaculo Godfrey, 36, a nurse from Middlesex, said: “This just goes to show that they don’t treat prisoners like humans. They just don’t care.

Deborah Coles

“It shows that what happened to Godfrey is not important to them and neither is the welfare of other prisoners. They have not learn their lesson and the prison officers at the inquest showed no remorse.”

Last year the board members said they were alarmed that training and procedures were only beginning to be put in place in 2009 after the critical inquest finding. Jurors at Mr Moyo’s inquest recorded a scathing narrative verdict which apportioned blame to the both nurses and prison officers.

Monday’s report revealed that four people died at Belmarsh prison in the past year while the number of inmates self-harming is on the rise. Board members also criticised the government for the current three-year waiting time for death in custody inquests. Workers at the Category A prison which can hold a maximum of 910 inmates, are still awaiting to give evidence at the inquests of inmates who died there in November 2007, June 2008 and two in November 2008.

In 2010, there were 97 incidents of self harm. An increase from 81 last year and 84 the year before but it was stated that the rise could be related to better recording.

Godfrey Moyo

Co-director of charity INQUEST Deborah Coles, which advises families and solicitors on contentious deaths, said: “We are really concerned that there are a number of significant issues raised at the Godfrey Moyo inquest that are still awaiting action, particular in regard to control and restraint guidelines and training. The responsibility for this lies with the government. As a result of this the family’s solicitor will be following the issues with the government as a matter of urgency. I welcome the fact that the Board have highlighted the current waiting time for inquests.
“It undermines the value of a prompt investigation because people cannot remember key events when giving evidence at the inquest.”

Now, there are worries that a 20 per cent cut in the criminal justice system budget coupled with the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, will lead to worse conditions for prisoners.

Chair of the Board Barry O’Connor said: “The board is concerned about the impact of fiscal cutbacks on the prison regime and on efforts to reduce reoffending. We believe it is essential to ensure decent custodial care for prisoners and wonder if there can be any significant reduction in reoffending without provision of adequate resources.”

Across the country there are 85,000 people locked up at a cost of approximately £45,000 a year.

The board concluded that it believes Belmarsh is a well managed prison with a very competent management team and a dedicated workforce.

A Prison Service spokesman said: “We thank the Independent Monitoring Board for their report which will be fully considered by ministers. We will respond to the board in due course.”

Report findings

■ Belmarsh opened in 1991 at a cost of more than £105 million.

■ It occupies 60 acres on the old Ministry of Defence Woolwich Arsenal site, 47 acres of which are within the perimeter wall.

■ It primarily serves the Central Criminal Court and Magistrates’ Courts in south-east London and parts of Essex, as well as holding high security risk prisoners on remand and awaiting trial.

■ Death in custody inquests are still taking three years.

■ The arrival of methadone dispensing machines in the healthcare unit and Houseblock 4 has speeded up drug dispensing and made the process less prone to abuse by prisoners.

■ Still concerns about drugs in the prison as the Board claim many are largely undetectable especially when wrapped in cling film.

■ There has been improved understanding in the treatment of foreign National Prisoners (FNPs) of which there are currently about 190 — a rise in last year’s figure.

■ Two cells were smashed in protest when a prisoner was put on a disciplinary report (known as rule 53).

■ Belmarsh Segregation Unit has 13 cells, two special cells for dirty protests, two close supervision cells and two special accommodation cells. There has been only one prisoner who needed special accommodation, and he was accommodated in Broadmoor. Each prisoner gets a minimum of 30 minutes exercise each day.

■ There were four deaths in custody all of which are currently being investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. The Board is also aware of a death of an individual shortly after the release from Belmarsh in October 2009. The Board suggests that systems be put in place to ensure that lessons are leant when former prisoners take their own lives immediately following.

■ The Board remains concerned about prisoners’ access to GPs as prisoner complaints on the issue are still high, which was also the case last year.

■ It is estimated that 60 per cent of the nurses time is spent handing out medicine.

■ Approximately 75 per cent of prisoners have mental health problems.

■ The maximum population it can safely hold is 910.

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