Murder suspect found dead in prison tried to self harm after tobacco withdrawal, Southwark Coroner's Court hears
A murder suspect found dead in prison tried to harm himself just days before because he was suffering from a withdrawal of tobacco, a court heard.
Father-of-two Adrian Johnson, 27, tied a TV aerial around his neck in an apparent cry for help at HMP High Down on May 8, 2010, stating his main cause of distress as a withdrawal of cigarettes, Southwark Coroner’s Court heard on Tuesday.
Just days later, on Thursday, May 13, 2010, he was found dead in his cell after he was transferred to Belmarsh Prison, in Thamesmead. The nurse that assessed him on his arrival had ranked him as low risk.
Mr Johnson who was accused of murder and ABH, on May 4, told prison staff he had no recollection of the offence and did not know when it occurred.
The former warehouseman, had been charged with stabbing to death 49-year-old Robert Anthony Lewis and with assaulting Colin Buckfield at a shared home for vulnerable adults in Cheam Road, Sutton, on May 4.
The court heard on Tuesday that Mr Johnson, a former warehouse man, usually smoked 40 cigarettes a day, suffered from schizophrenia, had a history of substance misuse and had attempted to take his own life on multiple occasions in the past.
On arrival at HMP High Down Mr Johnson saw a substance misuse doctor but she did not question him about smoking because prisoners were not denied tobacco and the healthcare staff were unable to prescribe it, the jury heard.
Daniel Craft, senior officer at HMP High Down was called out when Mr Johnson was found ligatured to a disability rail, next to the toilet, in his gated cell at 1.35pm on Saturday, May 8.
Mr Craft said he was lying on the floor and crying uncontrollably. He later told staff his main cause of distress was the withdrawal of cigarettes and he had no funds to buy more. The next time Mr Craft saw Mr Johnson, about 16 hours later, he was laughing and joking and he had managed to borrow some tobacco from another prisoner.
Mr Craft said: "He called it a cry for help - he wanted tobacco." Mr Johnson was referred to a mental health nurse but his next of kin were not informed.
His mother Claire Wicks visited him at the prison the same day and became concerned after noticing red marks around his neck and said: "He was unwell yes. He was completely normal then the next minute he was a completely different person."
She said Mr Johnson, had not had his medication over the previous weekend because it was a bank holiday which made it difficult to obtain.
Mr Johnson’s family tried to make the prison aware of their concerns including the red marks and smoking. They spoke to Mr Johnson’s solicitor who wrote to the prison after an emergency number they were given did not work.
The next time she spoke to her son was when he called her unexpectedly from Belmarsh following his appearance at the Old Bailey on Monday, May 10.
She said he seemed confused, thinking he had forgotten his son’s birthday and added: "All our efforts were being put into High Down - we weren’t even told he was going to Belmarsh."
The court heard Mr Johnson's father had committed suicide at the age of 27 by asphyxiating himself with a car exhaust - the same method Mr Johnson tried to harm himself with in November 2008.
He had received treatment from Carshalton community mental health services.
When Mr Johnson arrived at Belmarsh prison he told the nurse he did not have mental health problems and was ranked at a risk of 2/10 - meaning he was low risk.
Although his tobacco problem was noted it was not discussed in his initial screening and he was not referred for a mental health assessment.
The jury inquest, that is set to hear from 36 witnesses and is listed for three weeks, continues.
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