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Cell death prisoner considered ‘low risk’

Holloway inmate ‘had slit her neck weeks before prison arrival’

14 July, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Sarah Reed, described as ‘completely psychotic’

A HOLLOWAY prison inmate who was found dead in her cell last year was deemed “low risk” – despite staff describing her as “completely psychotic” and knowing she had slit her neck weeks before going to prison, an inquest has heard.

Sarah Reed, 32, was found dead on her bed at the Camden Road women’s prison with a ligature on her neck made from a bed sheet in January 11 last year.

At the time of her death, she was held in C1, the prison’s mental health unit, where she was checked every hour. She had previously been in the segregation unit, where staff checked on her every half hour.

The inquest at City of London Coroner’s Court, which started last week, has turned the spotlight on the care Ms Reed received at the prison.

On Friday, Simon Chittenden, a supervising officer in C1, told the jury that Ms Reed had said she had slit her neck eight weeks before coming to prison in an apparent suicide attempt.

He said a care plan – a series of forms used by prison staff to document concerns about an inmate at risk of suicide or self-harm – was started at the end of December 2015 after staff read Ms Reed’s letter to a friend which said:

“I might cut my throat on the weekend. I am beaten up by this stinking demon in my room every time I try to sleep.” Mr Chittenden wrote in Ms Reed’s file three days before her death: “She is completely psychotic, aggressive towards staff, making comments about god and the devil. She started rolling around in the bed and screaming.”

Ms Reed was, however, deemed a “low risk” on the care plan and her observations remained hourly, he told the jury.

Lesley Stuckey, custodial manager at the prison, told the jury she did not think Ms Reed was at high risk of suicide when she was transferred from the segregation unit.

She believed hourly observations were appropriate at C1 because it was somewhere Ms Reed wanted to go and there were more staff. “There was no indication that Sarah was going to take her own life,” she added.

On Tuesday, Sylvia Ottogalli, Ms Reed’s care coordinator before she moved to C1, told the jury that, due to “diary clashes”, she failed to organise a care plan meeting to discuss Ms Reed’s medication with psychiatrists until two months after she arrived at Holloway.

Ms Reed was top of a list of inmates waiting to be transferred to a hospital mental health unit, the court heard.

But Emily Thomas, prison governor at the time, told the jury that “too much demand and too few beds” meant it could have taken weeks for Ms Reed to be moved, especially because prisoners suffering mental health crises in Holloway were considered safer there than those in the community.

Ms Reed, described by her family as “much treasured”, started to suffer from mental health issues following the death of her nine-month-old daughter from muscular atrophy in 2003, the inquest heard.

She had been sent to Holloway on remand in October 2015 after being charged with the serious assault of a psychiatric nurse. The hearing is due to last another week.

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