Prison staff criticised for failing to carry out mental health checks on schizophrenic murder suspect

Sutton Guardian: Adrian Johnson Adrian Johnson

Prison staff have been severely criticised for not carrying out proper mental health checks on a schizophrenic murder suspect who hanged himself in jail.

Father-of-two Adrian Johnson, 27, was found hanged in his cell on Thursday, May 13, 2010, in Belmarsh Prison, in Thamesmead.

It happened after the frequency of his observations by officers was downgraded - despite a previous attempt to hang himself just days before in High down prison.

Mr Johnson, a former warehouseman, was 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.

In summing up the evidence from 36 witnesses yesterday, Southwark Coroner Dr Andrew Harris, outlined the central issues the jury needed to consider before drawing their conclusions.

This included whether sufficient medical history was secured by Belmarsh and how the prison dealt with Mr Johnson’s nicotine withdrawal.

Expert witness Dr Marcus Bicknell criticised the prison for not conducting a formal mental health assessment before Mr Johnson's death.

He called it a serious failure to provide basic medical care, and said that Mr Johnson should have been seen within 24 to 48 hours.

The day before his death, May 12, Mr Johnson was demanding tobacco, started smashing up his cell and was put in a segregation unit.

He then started banging his head and demanded to be moved to a single cell and to have a cigarette - stating that if staff put him back in the ward he would kill someone or kill himself.

While a prison officer went to see if he could find an appropriate cell for Mr Johnson he attacked a member of staff in the hallway and was returned to the segregation unit, which was described as an "exceptional measure".

He was placed under constant watch in a gated cell.

Dr Andrew Harris said: "Dr Bicknell sympathised but criticised the decision to put him in the segregation unit.

"Segregation units are not preferred location for potentially suicidal prisoners.

"He said it would be better for him to be in a gated cell in healthcare [prison hospital] with a nicotine replacement."

During the night Mr Johnson was put on half hourly observations and at 11pm Mr Johnson complained of an evil spirit in his cell making him cold.

Staff gave him a blanket but no psychiatric referral was made.

On the morning of his death he covered his face with toothpaste and soap.

At midday he was transferred to a normal cell and there are no records of any further observations.

Mr Johnson was found hanged in his cell at 1.55pm with a shirt around his neck.

He was grey and cold to touch when he was found. Mr Johnson died of asphyxiation and the medical cause of death was given as hanging.

Dr Bicknell criticised the decision to downgrade the constant watch of Mr Johnson and said if it had not been done Mr Johnson would not have died on the balance of probabilities - as it gave him the opportunity to take his own life.

Dr Bicknell said in his opinion the death was suicide not an accident.

In giving his directions to the jury Dr Harris said they should consider suicide, accidental suicide or neglect.

The jury is due to be sent out today to consider its verdict.

 

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