Councillor’s son died after prison workout

James Best
James Best

THE FOSTER son of a Hastings councillor died in prison after bosses let him work out in a gym despite a catalogue of ailments, a jury inquest heard.

James Best, 37, who was fostered by Cllr Godfrey Daniel, notified authorities of his conditions in a standard form filled out before inmates are allowed to use the jail gym.

But the form was signed off by prison orderlies and filed away and Best not required to see a doctor before using equipment, Westminster Coroner’s Court was told.

He collapsed on August 8, 2011 at Wandsworth prison in south London.

The jury heard Best had been remanded in custody ahead of sentence days earlier after he admitted theft during the London Riots at Croydon Magistrates’ Court.

Best filled out a standard gym induction form in which he listed medical conditions including asthma, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure and mental health problems.

Giving evidence, prison officer Shane Donnelly said there were no procedures in place at the time requiring inmates who presented with health difficulties to consult a doctor before using the facilities.

“I would advise them to go to their doctor,’ he said.

“But I wouldn’t know. You were relying on the lad who came to see you going to see the doctor themselves.”

“Once completed, the forms were stored in a filing cabinet and not forwarded to medics,” he added.

Jurors at the inquest were shown forms which had Mr Donnelly’s name on but had signatures belonging to others, including prison orderlies.

He admitted he had filled them out in bulk but denied he knew others were signing them in his name.

He said of the referral system: “It was a system that had been on a downward spiral.

“It wasn’t working well.’

Asked if it was the system that had failed Best, he replied: “Yes.”

Later, inmate Philip Harkins was brought to court in handcuffs to give evidence about his work as a gym orderly.

He said he had understood he was to sign the forms when they were collected and would flag up issues to staff, but did not take action himself.

“I would just sign them,” he explained.

“I don’t recall ever having a conversation with an inmate.”

Best was born in Skegness, Lincolnshire but placed in care at just 12 months.

He was adopted and lived in Hastings until the adoption broke down when he was 15. He was then fostered by Cllr Daniel and his then wife Dolly Daniel for three years.

He later went to work in Portugal as a chef from 2001 to 2011 when he returned to England and moved to a flat in Croydon.

After his funeral on September 27, 2011 his ashes were scattered at a tree in Alexandra Park opposite the Daniel family home in Lower Park Road.

The inquest was expected to last for five days.