HMP Styal: Prisoner who had stillborn baby 'will never forgive jail'

By Sima Kotecha
UK Editor, BBC Newsnight

Media caption,
Louise Powell says her baby died "due to errors" at the jail

A prisoner who gave birth to a stillborn baby in the toilet of a cell has said she "will never forgive the prison" for the "horror death".

Louise Powell, 31, who did not know she was pregnant, said she begged for an ambulance before her baby died at HMP Styal in Cheshire in 2020.

She told BBC Newsnight she was left alone when she was "crying for help".

The Prisons and Probations Ombudsman found there were "missed opportunities" to identify her urgent clinical needs.

Its report said prison staff and nurses should be given early labour training.

It also said the duty nurse made "a serious error of judgment" by not visiting her after they were contacted three times about the severe pain Ms Powell was in.

In a statement, Ms Powell said: "The pain of Brooke's death will never leave me.

"I cannot forgive the prison or healthcare for leaving me when I was calling for help and I felt like I was dying."

Image caption,
Louise Powell gave birth in her cell at HMP Styal

She added: "I was having a medical emergency and should have been urgently helped. Instead I was left.

"I want justice for Brooke so no other woman has to go through this horror in prison."

Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins said: "The tragic events detailed in this report should quite simply never happen to any woman or child, and my deepest sympathies remain with the mother.

"We have already implemented the report's recommendations and important improvements have been made to the care received by pregnant women in custody.

"But there is clearly much more to do to ensure expectant mothers in prison get the same support as those in the community - something I will continue to prioritise."

NHS England, which commissions healthcare in prison, has apologised for the loss of the baby and said it had "taken prompt action on the recommendations in the report".

The Ministry of Justice said it had also made improvements and was looking at how "we can better screen for pregnancy in jails so no woman falls through the cracks".

The report, which refers to Ms Powell as Ms B, said: "The duty nurse did not review Ms B's record sufficiently or go to see Ms B as she should have done.

"She failed to fully assess Ms B's clinical situation, and this was a serious error of judgement."

The document details how the Supervising Officer (SO) on Ms Powell's house block acted appropriately to alert the nurse to her condition and update her when the situation changed.

'Lessons learned'

An hour or so before Ms Powell gave birth, the report said the SO wrote in the wing observation book: "[Ms B] is having very bad stomach cramps and is bleeding.

"Hotel 1 [Nurse 2, the duty nurse] contacted three times but would not come out to see her. Tasked night staff with coming to give pain relief and appointment made for triage tomorrow."

However it stated that all members of staff who helped her during and after the pregnancy acted "with humanity and to the best of their abilities".

Ms Powell was sent to the prison in March 2020 after admitting common assault, racially-aggravated harassment and criminal damage.

On her first day she told staff there was "no chance" she was pregnant.

However, her lawyer Jane Ryan said prison staff were aware she had not had a period for four to five months and never followed it up.

The health provider to HMP Styal said "it fully accepts the findings", and is "fully committed to ensure that lessons are learnt and that recommendations in the report are acknowledged and actioned following this tragic incident".

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