Jessica Whitchurch death the result of prison failings
PUBLISHED: 16:00 21 November 2018
A Nailsea woman died weeks before her release from prison, following ‘organisational failings in prison service staffing’, left her dangerous episodes of self-harm ‘unchallenged’.
Jessica Whitchurch was found by staff collapsed in her cell at Eastwood Park prison on May 18, 2016.
She left a note for her family which read: ‘I’m sorry, I had to do this’.
The 31-year-old was rushed to hospital and placed on life support but was pronounced brain dead. She died two days later.
A jury on Monday returned a narrative verdict as there was insufficient evidence to determine whether Jess’s death was the result of an accident or suicide, stating her death may have been the unintentional result of an extreme self-harm episode.
Ms Whitchurch had a borderline personality disorder and was often bullied by inmates on her block, the inquest at Avon Coroner’s Court was told.
On two occasions following incidents with other inmates, in February and May 2016, staff found Ms Whitchurch self-harming.
On the morning of May 18, 2016, Jess had an altercation with other prisoners and was placed in her cell.
She was checked by staff at 12.19pm when she was found to be self-harming.
Ms Whitchurch was then checked only twice more, something the jury slammed as ‘deeply inadequate’ and had ‘contributed to her death’.
It also highlighted a failure to communicate the seriousness of the situation between prison officers at handover and between officers and healthcare staff as a major contributing factor.
Emma Gardiner, Jess’ sister said: “After a painful two-and-a-half year wait and seven days of extremely distressing evidence the jury has finally confirmed what we have known all along, that Jess’ care in the hours before her death was inadequate and her death was avoidable.
“All we can hope now is lessons can be learned so the lives of other vulnerable women can be spared, and no family has to suffer as we have.
“We would like to thank the jury for their hard work and careful consideration of the evidence.”
The Ministry of Justice has been approached for a comment.