5 November 2018
HM Senior Coroner for Hertfordshire Geoffrey Sullivan
The Old Courthouse, St Albans Ed East, Hatfield
Scheduled 5 November to 19 November 2018
Thomas James Nicol, known as Tommy, died on 25 September 2015, four days after he was found hanging at HMP The Mount. Tommy was 37. He was in prison on an ‘Imprisonment for Public Protection’ sentence (IPP); indeterminate sentences which have since been abolished. The inquest into his death opened today (Monday 5 November) at Hertfordshire Coroner’s court.
The minimum tariff on Tommy’s sentence was four years, starting from November 2009. He died after almost six years in prison. Tommy was transferred to HMP The Mount after spending time at HMP Erlestoke after a Parole Board review of his sentence in June 2015. The review concluded that Tommy should do further ‘motivational and psychological’ work before release. Tommy expressed frustration about this decision, and not being able to do the required programmes ahead of the review. The next Parole Board review was not due until February 2017, over two years later.
Tommy had not been diagnosed with mental ill health, but following the review spent long periods in segregation cells at HMP Erlestoke. On 15 September 2015 he was transferred to HMP The Mount straight from segregation, and three days later seriously self-harmed and expressed extreme distress and frustration at not having been moved to an open prison. The prison began monitoring procedures for self-harm and suicide known as ACCT.
Following this, Tommy’s self-harm and troubled behaviour escalated. He remained in segregation and was considered high risk by staff. On 21 September he was found hanging in a segregation cell. On 25 September doctors withdrew life support and Tommy died. The family were later informed of Tommy’s self-harm and subsequent death.
Despite being abolished in December 2012, on 20 July 2018 the Parole Board reported that around 2,800 people remain in prison on an IPP sentence. Throughout the use of the sentence, serious concerns were raised over difficulties in accessing ‘offender behaviour’ courses, required to qualify for release.
NOTES TO EDITORS
For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or here.
INQUEST has been working with the family of Tommy Nicol since his death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Claire Brigham of Hodge Jones and Allen solicitors, and Kirsten Sjovoll of Matrix Chambers.
Other deaths of people on IPP sentences include:
- Steven Trudghill, 23, who died at HMP Highpoint on 9 January 2014. The coroner at the conclusion of the inquest wrote a Prevention of Future Deaths report addressed to the Ministry of Justice, which raised concerns about other prisoners on IPP sentences who wereat continued risk. He said, it is the “case that there are complex mental health needs which might actually be the reason for the continuing risk that keeps them in custody, as with Steven, yet the specific treatments are not available within the prison system”.
- Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Nokes, who was 38 when she died at HMP Peterborough on 23, 2016. The inquest into her death is yet to take place. Charlotte’s family spoke to the BBC about her life.
- IPP sentences came into use on 4 April 2005, as part of section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, introduced by then Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
- In 2007 the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court ruled that the continued incarceration of prisoners serving IPPs after tariff expiry where the prisons lack the facilities and courses required to assess their suitability for release was unlawful.
- In 2010 a joint report by the chief inspectors of prisons and probation concluded that IPP sentences were unsustainable for prisons in the UK.
- On 3 December 2012 the IPP sentence for new cases was abolished by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
- In November 2016 HM Inspectorate of Prisons completed a review of the ongoing challenges of managing and progressing the large number of prisoners still serving IPP sentences. They found IPP prisoners fell into three broad categories:
- those who had not reduced their risk and remained dangerous,
- those who could reduce their risk if the support provided by the system was delivered more efficiently,
- those who might be deemed ready for release if delays and inefficiencies in the offender management and parole processes were resolved.
- On 20 July 2018, the Parole Board reported that around 2,800 people remain in prison on an IPP sentence. People on IPP sentences also have particularly high rates of being recalled to prison, according to reports.
- The Parole Board noted in October 2017 that more than half of those released had being sent back to jail for breaching licence conditions. There were suggestions in the 2016 HMIP review (above) that this could be linked to a lack of access for people on IPP sentences to temporary release (ROTL) to prepare for leaving prison.
- For more information see Parliamentary Briefing Paper [PDF] on Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection, October 2017.