Tony Couchman inquest jury questions prison policies

LEWES Prison has vowed to review its policies after the jury looking into the suicide of Tony Couchman raised questions over his care.

In its findings, the jury pointed out that no mental health review had taken place despite evidence of his mood getting worse, there were ‘no effective observations of potentially vulnerable prisoners’ and there was no system to flag up events like trials that would increase the stress on inmates.

Psychologist Dr Clare Dunkley said that when he first arrived at Lewes, Mr Couchman was subject to an Assessment, Care in Custody, and Teamwork (ACCT) report, designed to protect prisoners at risk of self-harm. But this was lifted in July and Dr Dunkley said that she would have hoped that his ‘down and depressed’ state might have triggered some concern, leading to him being given a full mental health review and possibly placed back on the ACCT.

Had that been done, he would have been checked more frequently overnight, but as it was he was left in his cell between 6pm and 10.15am on the day he died, with only a cursory check from a patrolling officer.

Coroner Alan Craze said prisons should have systems where the dates of upcoming trials - or other potentially stressful situations like custody hearings, family visits and the birth of children - are recorded so prisoners can be monitored more closely around those times. Dr Dunkley agreed it would be ‘extremely helpful’ and Edward Nealon, the deputy governor of Lewes Prison said since Mr Couchman’s death, a system had been put in place to flag up court appearances.

Mr Craze also questioned the arrangements for selling razor blades to prisoners - including those on suicide watch - unless special provisions are made. But Mr Nealon said it was important to ‘normalise’ inmates’ lives and that during his 18 years in the service this was only the second case of a prisoner using a razor to kill himself. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) will consider the inquest findings to see what lessons can be learned in addition to those already learned as a result of the investigation conducted by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.”