Ex-detective Peter Foster's Lewes Prison suicide 'inevitable'

Media caption,
Peter Foster was convicted of murdering his partner Heather Cooper in 2011

The death of a former detective who hanged himself at Lewes Prison was inevitable, an inquest has heard.

Peter Foster, 36, was jailed for life for murdering his partner, fellow officer Heather Cooper, in 2011.

The 33-year-old was killed at the couple's home in Haslemere, Surrey, and dumped in a shallow woodland grave.

Foster had made several attempts on his life in the years before he was found dead on 30 July 2012, the inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall was told.

He had been on the prison's acute health care ward while on remand and was kept on the highest level of observation because he was deemed a high suicide risk.

The inquest heard that a month after he was sentenced, and just days after checks on him were reduced to hourly, he was found dead.

'Pills and alcohol'

Foster's friend Jonathon Carver, representing Foster's grandmother Marguerite Howkins, said not being able to see his children after his arrest had a "profound effect on him".

He said Foster had been abandoned by his mother and brought up by his grandmother.

He also had a difficult relationship with his father and suffered bouts of depression.

Image source, Surrey Police
Image caption,
Heather Cooper was found dead in woodland a few miles from her home

Mr Carver told the hearing Foster's father was murdered in January 2009, which he had found hard to cope with.

Later that year, he was found close to death on his father's grave after taking pills and alcohol.

'Expected to die'

The inquest also heard that he had said to his grandmother while he was in prison: "The Foster men die young."

Mr Carver said: "We expected that Peter would die. For us it was a matter of when, not if."

Foster was jailed for life and told he must serve a minimum of 17 years in June 2012 for hitting Det Con Cooper over the head 10 times with a baseball bat and stabbing her in the throat.

Her body was found in Blackdown Woods, near Lurgashall, West Sussex, in October 2011.

Ms Cooper, who grew up in York, worked in the Public Protection Investigation Unit based at Guildford police station.

Mr Carver said Foster was "full of remorse" for what had happened, but that his death was "inevitable".

"They [the prison staff] could not have stopped it."

Prison officer Geoff Gordon described Foster as a pleasant and calm man who was interesting, vulnerable and bright.

He said the decision to relax his prison observation regime did not lie with one person because "the burden would be too big if it went wrong".

Steve Kelly, a nurse at the prison, said that in the three to four months before Foster's death, staff noticed that he had started to detach himself.

He said: "He told me that he realised he was switching off but we thought it was because he was disengaging with staff and life at the prison because he knew he would be going to a lifers' prison.

"With the benefit of hindsight you could say he was disengaging because he was going to commit suicide."

Mr Kelly said he was surprised to learn that Foster had killed himself at Lewes Prison as he and many other staff thought he may have waited until he was transferred to another jail where he was not so well known.

The hearing continues.

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