Our Inquest Department were instructed to act on behalf of the family of Mr Bowkett who died on 18th May 2014 whilst an inmate at HMP Erlestoke. Our Inquest Department acted on behalf of Mr Bowkett’s mother and siblings.
Mr Bowkett was remanded into custody in the summer of 2011 and in December 2011 was sentenced to 5 years 11 months imprisonment. He was due to be released at the beginning of August 2014.
Mr Bowkett suffered with mental health problems including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
On Sunday 18th May 2014 at approximately 12:11 pm the door of Mr Bowkett’s cell was locked by an Officer after looking through the cell door observation panel for lunchtime lock up. At around 1:32 pm the same Officer unlocked the door of Mr Bowkett’s cell. He did not look through the cell door observation panel as he was required to do so, by reason of the Prison Officer Entry Level Training Manual and Prison Service Instruction 10/2011. Both these documents specifically state that the Prison Officer should seek and obtain a positive response from the prisoner.
Throughout the remainder of the afternoon Mr Bowkett did not leave his cell and no Prison Officer attended his cell to check on his welfare.
At about 5 pm a different Officer looked through the observation panel of the door to Mr Bowkett’s cell. Shortly after, about 5 minutes after, the same Officer escorted another prisoner to Mr Bowkett’s cell to take him his evening meal. The Prison Officer entered the cell first. He thought that Mr Bowkett appeared to be asleep. His food tray was placed on the table. No checks were made on him by the Prison Officer.
Evening lock up then took place at around 5.35 pm. After locking the door the Officer looked through the cell door observation panel and Mr Bowkett was thought to be asleep still.
Around 10 minutes after 3 Officers attended Mr Bowkett’s cell and looked through the observation panel. On opening the cell door Mr Bowkett was found to be dead on his bed in the same position as when his evening meal was delivered approximately 40 minutes earlier.
An Inquest was held into the death of Mr Bowkett by HM Coroner D W G Ridley on 19th October 2015. The cause of death was given as:-
1a) Drug toxicity
The Inquest evidence revealed missed opportunities by discipline staff to check on the welfare of Mr Bowkett for a period of over 5 hours. There was evidence to suggest during this time Prison staff failed to elicit a response from Mr Bowkett nor take any sufficient steps to ascertain why he had not left his cell during the course of the afternoon. Upon entering his cell, staff commenced CPR and failed to locate a defibrillator. It was clear however from the Inquest evidence that failings surrounding his attempt at resuscitation did not contribute to his death.
Following conclusion of the Inquest a detailed Letter of Claim was forwarded to the Ministry of Justice on behalf of Mr Bowkett’s family. The Letter of Claim alleged negligence and a breach of the Claimants Article 2 rights pursuant to the Human Rights Act 1998. It was alleged that the Defendant through its Prison staff for whom the Defendant was vicariously liable, failed to carry out appropriate welfare checks on the afternoon of Mr Bowkett’s death and failed to investigate why he had not left his cell and/or bed during the whole of the afternoon of 18th May 2014 when it knew that the same was unusual for him. It was further alleged that the Defendant failed to take any or adequate steps to prevent the entry and circulation of illicit drugs including heroin within HMP Erlestoke.
A claim under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act arises from the State’s positive obligation to take operative measures to protect the lives of those in its custody. It was argued on behalf of the Claimants that there had been a violation of Article 2 and that there was a real and immediate risk to Mr Bowkett’s life that staff responsible for his care were aware or ought to have been aware of and did not do all that was reasonable to have avoided that risk to him.
Civil proceedings against the Defendant were issued and served and the Defendant filed a Defence to the claim.
An offer of settlement was put forward on behalf of the Claimants and following negotiations with the Defendant settlement was achieved in favour of the family of Mr Bowkett.