Unlawful detention and transfer to Segregation contributed to death at HMP Woodhill

Maya Sikand QC and Cian Murphy were instructed by Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn to represent the family of Mark Culverhouse, who was found unresponsive after days of unlawful detention at HMP Woodhill, and later died.

The inquest into the death of the 29-year-old concluded on Friday 21 May 2021, with the jury finding critical failures contributed to his death. These included putting Mark in segregation and unlawfully detaining him past his licence expiry date. On 23 April 2019, shortly before 15.00, Mark was found unresponsive under a sheet on the floor of a cell in the segregation unit at HMP Woodhill. He had used a ligature and later died.

The senior coroner, Tom Osborne, indicated that he will be writing a report to prevent future deaths highlighting Mark’s recall to prison when his licence had in fact expired, as well as the delay in releasing him once in prison. The coroner said he was “outraged” by Mark’s unlawful detention which, he said, had led Mark further into crisis, and eventually death. He said that it was contrary to the Magna Carta of 1215.

The inquest had heard that on 17 April 2019, Mark was in serious crisis in the community. He climbed up scaffolding and threatened to jump from the third storey of a building. He was brought down by skilled negotiators but then arrested for offences directly related to the incident.

Mark was then taken to Northampton Police Station, where two doctors deemed him fit to be detained despite the negotiator wanting him to have a formal Mental Health Act assessment. Mark was subsequently interviewed and charged. The next day he was taken to Northampton Magistrates’ Court but, before he taken up to the court, he had to be taken to hospital after deliberately hitting his head very hard in the cell area. Mark repeatedly indicated that he would kill himself if returned to prison.

While he was in hospital, the probation service decided to recall Mark to prison in relation to a previous short sentence of driving while disqualified, despite the fact he was suicidal. The inquest heard that the probation services do not calculate sentences before deciding to recall someone. He was still in deep crisis upon arrival and was captured on CCTV saying he had been recalled for trying to take his own life and asking to be taken to hospital. It transpired that he had no time left to serve on his licence and should in fact have been immediately released. However, no administrative staff were present to calculate his release date over the Easter bank holiday weekend, so he remained incarcerated, and in four days was twice removed to segregation.

Mark was subject to suicide and self-harm monitoring throughout his time in the prison (he was on an ACCT). On 19 April he was forcibly removed to segregation where he repeatedly hit his head very hard and expressed the wish to die. He was later found unresponsive and taken to hospital. He spent a number of days on constant observation.

On 23 April 2019, after an altercation with another prisoner, Mark was restrained and again taken to segregation, although still on an ACCT. There were only two documented observations and both times he was said to be under a sheet. Earlier that same day, administrative staff had been alerted to the fact that Mark might be due for immediate release. This was not communicated to him. By the time they confirmed the calculation he had ligatured.

The inquest jury concluded that the decision to transfer Mark to the Segregation Unit on 23 April contributed to his death. They found that the manner of observations, with his body obscured during the purported observations, were insufficient. The jury also concluded that there was a defect in the system of recall and release from prison, which led to Mark’s unlawful detention, and contributed to his death.

Wendy Culverhouse, mother of Mark said:

“Mark is the light in my life. He just wanted some help. He should have been taken care of, not sent to prison. The Coroner and the jury know Mark should not have been in prison. I hope that changes will be made so no family ever has this terrible experience.”

Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors said:  

“The fact that a man in suicidal crisis was recalled to prison by probation officers on a 16 week sentence is bad enough, but in this case it transpired that Mark had 81 unused days due to him and had probation known that they could not have recalled him. The defect in the system meant that he spent 4 nights in custody, where he repeatedly expressed that he was in crisis. The ACCT system did not protect him – despite the exceptionality requirement, he was twice placed in segregation, by officers concerned with discipline and not his obvious vulnerability. He was then able to ligature in segregation because prison officers ignored that fact he under a sheet on the two occasions they purported to observe him through the panel.”