Investigation Report into the Death In Custody of Allyn Baxter
Published on June 15 2011
The Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Pauline McCabe, today published her report into the death of 19-year-old Allyn Baxter, who died by suicide while in the custody of Hydebank Wood Prison and Young Offender’s Centre on Tuesday, 3rd August, 2010.
The report points to a total of 18 issues of concern requiring action by the Northern Ireland Prison Service and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.
The Prisoner Ombudsman found that:
Mr Baxter had a number of background risk factors that indicated an increased risk of suicide in custody.
His demeanour when he spoke to prison staff, and when he was with other inmates, did not lead to concerns about his immediate well-being.
Mr Baxter was nevertheless vulnerable and this was not adequately identified. In particular, the report found that important information relating to his history of polysubstance abuse and self-harm was not accessed. If his vulnerability had been recognised, his risks might have been managed differently.
Mr Baxter was locked in his cell for around 22 hours on each of the two days before he died, reflecting the fact that there are no arrangements in place to provide purposeful activity for newly-committed inmates.
Mr Baxter had three troubled phone calls on the evening he died.
The officers who discovered Mr Baxter did everything they reasonably could to assist him and staff who watched him in hospital were very caring and considerate towards his family.
Releasing the report, Mrs McCabe said:
“Of particular concern is the extended length of time in which Allyn, a vulnerable prisoner, was locked in his cell. Long periods of lockdown, in my view, do nothing to address offending behaviour and are the enemy of the vulnerable.
“While it is not possible to say that the final outcome would have been different if Allyn had not been locked up for such long periods, evidence clearly shows that lower rates of death by suicide are associated with higher rates of purposeful activity.
“The fact that any newly-committed 19-year-old spends so little time out of his cell and has such limited access to purposeful activity is a matter of concern.”
Attention was recently drawn to this issue, and many others, in the recent report published by the Prison Review Team, led by Dame Anne Owers, which underlines the case for fundamental reform of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The report calls for a properly‐resourced change programme, with high‐level political support and clear objectives, priorities, timescales and measures of success, drawing on and engaging with external expertise and services.
Mrs McCabe added: “All these issues of concern must be fully and urgently addressed by the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust as part of that programme for change.”
Notes to editors:
1. The Prisoner Ombudsman terms of reference (www. niprisonerombudsman.gov.uk/termsofreference.html) require the Office to investigate all deaths in prison custody since September 2005.
2. The Prisoner Ombudsman made a commitment when she took up post in September 2008 to publish all Death in Custody investigation reports. Copies of all reports published to date can be found at www.niprisonerombudsman.gov.uk/publications.html.
3. In line with the Prisoner Ombudsman Terms of Reference a copy of the Report will also be sent to the Coroner.
4. The family of Allyn Baxter have asked that the media respect their right to privacy and do not make contact with them in relation to Allyn’s death.