Hanged HMP Haverigg inmate 'failed by prison staff'

Keith Abbott and Linda Bailey Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Mr Abbott's partner Linda Bailey described the prison as "clearly unsafe"

Prison staff in Cumbria failed to take proper steps to keep safe an inmate who was sexually assaulted and later found hanged, an inquest jury has concluded.

Keith Abbott, 32, was serving a four-year term at HMP Haverigg when he died in his single-occupancy cell in 2016.

A pathologist told his inquest he had been subjected to a "serious sexual assault" in the hour before his death.

After the hearing in Carlisle, Abbott's partner Linda Bailey described the prison as "clearly unsafe".

Police made a number of arrests in the wake of Abbott's death but, after an investigation, no charges were brought.

The inquest, which was for fact-finding and not to apportion blame and heard from 60 witnesses, was told Liverpool-born Abbott was found dead on the morning of 15 July 2016.

During evidence, jurors heard one former senior staff member describe staffing levels as "severe" and that workers were "becoming burnt out".

As a result, searches for the banned synthetic substance spice that the prison was battling to contain had been "scaled back".

Image copyright Google
Image caption HMP Haverigg is a category C prison

A toxicologist found no evidence to indicate that Abbott had used or was administered with spice.

However, the expert concluded it was not possible to exclude the use or administration of synthetic cannabinoids due to difficulties detecting them prior to rapid deaths.

The 11-strong jury of six women and five men concluded the sexual assault was a "more than minimal, trivial or negligible cause" of his death.

Asked whether adequate steps were taken by staff to keep Abbott safe, the jury's foreman replied: "No."

Senior coroner Kally Cheema noted the jail's operational capacity had been slashed from 644 to 260 since Abbott's death, and that prisoner billets on what was a former RAF base had since been closed down.

After the hearing, Ms Bailey, said: "I am pleased with the conclusion that [the] jury have reached, and the inquest has gone a long way in answering the many questions I had unanswered following Keith's death.

"The prison was clearly an unsafe environment, and it is extremely sad that it has taken Keith's death to recognise that and close the billets down."

Abbott was jailed in October 2015 after admitting attempted robbery and possession of an offensive weapon.

The Ministry of Justice said it would "carefully consider" the findings and "take further action where necessary".

A spokesman said: "This is a tragic case and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Mr Abbott."

He said changes had also been made to "prevent something like this happening again".

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