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Wednesday, 01 March 2017

Don't let my son's death be in vain, pleads prison suicide campaigner

Written by Kate Ferguson

A father whose son killed himself in prison after failings by the authorities has warned that others will die unless minsters urgently improve care behind bars.

Stay-at-home dad Dean Saunders, 25, was suffering from mental health problems when he killed himself at Chelmsford Prison in January last year.

The prisons ombudsman said he was given too little protection by the criminal justice system and the jury at his inquest found his death was "contributed to by neglect''.

His father Mark, 49, a bus driver from Basildon in Essex, met Justice Secretary Liz Truss and told her she must urgently improve safety in Britain's jails.

He told the Press Association: "I looked back through ten years of investigations into suicides and the same failings are repeated, there are clear patterns there.

"I told her that I was angry, because if something had happened many deaths and inquests ago maybe we wouldn't be here now. I'm angry on that side.

"But now I know the failings I can't walk away. I can't walk away and let someone else die and I don't want Dean to have died in vain.

"Dean was the type of lad who would help anyone, and when he needed the help they just turned their back on him.

"They have got to make changes. That's what I'm fighting for."

His comments come ahead of a debate in the House of Commons on prison deaths led by Labour MP Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree) and which Mr Saunders is attending.

His son was enjoying life as a father when he was diagnosed with paranoia shortly before Christmas in 2015.

He went to hospital where doctors considered sectioning him before agreeing he would return to his parents' home while a longer term care plan was decided upon.

But that evening he threatened to kill himself and in the ensuing tussle stabbed his father and was arrested. He was taken into custody and placed into the prison system rather than a psychiatric hospital.

He was initially placed on round-the-clock watch but was soon taken off it and instead staff were checking in on him only every half hour, leaving him alone in his cell for much of the day.

And while in the days leading up to his death he had tried to self-harm and talked about killing himself, his care plan was not altered, Mr Saunders said.

He electrocuted himself in Chelmsford Prison on January 4 last year.

"We were just coming to terms with the fact he was ill and the next minute we were planning his funeral," Mr Saunders said.

The authorities are failing to properly enforce the recommendations made by investigations into deaths in custody, so the same mistakes are being repeated, he warns.

Mr Saunders said: "I realise you can't stop every death. There are going to be the ones that slip through the net, where there have not been any warning signs.

"But not in Dean's case. They were told about him, the warning signs were there, so there is no excuse."

He welcomed moves by the Government to introduce specialist self-harm training but said his son's inquest found that even basic training in things such as first aid had lapsed.

Unless proper funding, training and procedures are put in place and stuck to, he fears more prisoners will die in custody.

"It's not the hardened criminals who are in and out of prison who are the ones self-harming or taking their lives, it's the ones who need the help. And they are just not getting it," he said.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "An inquiry is under way looking at all deaths in custody in the last year, to further our understanding of why these events happen.

"We are committed to making prisons places of safety and reform and giving prisoners the support and treatment they need to help turn their lives around.

"All prisons have established procedures in place to identify, manage and help prisoners with mental health issues. Increased support is now available to those at risk of self-harm or suicide, especially in the first 24 hours, and we have invested in mental health awareness training for staff."

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