Date published: 8th February 2018

The inquest into the death of Stephen Toby Connell concluded on 6th February 2018. Stephen died in hospital on 20 February 2016, having been found hanging in his cell at HMP/YOI Hindley two days earlier. Stephen grew up in Wigan and had later moved to Birkenhead, Wirral. He was 20 years old.

Stephen had a troubled childhood and had self-harmed using a ligature at the age of 12. He was also subject to suicide and self-harm monitoring procedures (known as ACCT) during his first period in custody at HMP Altcourse and had been found with a ligature in May 2015.

A few days after his arrival at HMP/YOI Hindley at the end of October 2015 Stephen was seriously assaulted by another inmate and from then on displayed self-isolating behaviour, voluntarily confining himself to his cell for significant periods of time. In December 2015 he was placed on an ACCT document after reporting an overdose of paracetamol and he told officers that he had had thoughts of self-harm, including hanging, because he was under threat in the prison. He gave prison staff a list of named individuals from whom he felt under threat but witnesses told the jury they had seen no evidence that these individuals were investigated. In February 2016 Stephen again told staff that he felt unsafe and this was why he could not leave his cell to attend activities. He again provided a list of named individuals in the days before his death and also put in a complaint saying that it wasn’t fair that he kept getting negative entries for not attending work. As the jury heard, when a prisoner receives negative entries this affects their status on the prison’s Incentive and Earned Privilege (IEP) scheme. Stephen said he was hearing voices, that being in his cell all day wasn’t helping him and asked to be provided with a TV, which is not allowed on basic level. However, on the morning of his death it was decided that Stephen would remain on basic level on the IEP scheme for the time being because he had received four negative entries for not attending activities. 

The jury concluded that Stephen died as a result of self-suspension but they were not satisfied that he intended to cause his death. They found that a failure to review Stephen’s status on the IEP scheme in the light of all the information relevant to his risk contributed to his death.

Stephen’s close friend and nominated next of kin, Kieran McLaughlin, along with Kieran’s sister, Laura, were granted Interested Person status and were represented. Stephen’s Aunt was also granted Interested Person status and represented.

Kieran and Laura said:

“We are pleased that the jury recognised that the failure by the prison contributed towards Stephen’s death.  We understand that there are some changes being implemented in the prison to ensure a key worker scheme is put into place.  We would urge the Prison to act urgently to ensure that there is no further delay.  We would like to thank the support of Rob and Kath at Love Jasmine for assisting financially so that I could attend at Court.  Also, all those who donated to the fundraising which we will be donating to the charities Love Jasmine and INQUEST.”

Stephen’s Aunt said:

“We were distressed to hear the evidence surrounding the prison failings.  We would hope that in view of the issue identified by the jury that some lessons have been learnt.”

A solicitor from Broudie Jackson Canter said:

“Frustratingly, another sad case where there is evidence highlighting failures by the prison. It is frustrating that in 2015/16 staffing cuts appear to have led to a dispute over the personal officer scheme, meaning that the personal officer role was not being fully carried out throughout the prison, despite this being raised by the Coroner in her Report to Prevent Future Deaths following the Inquest of Jake Hardy in 2014. 

This is yet another tragic death of a young care leaver with a reported history of self-harm and attempted suicide.  Why are the concerns raised by these vulnerable young people in custody not being addressed?”

Numerous hurdles were encountered in obtaining legal aid in this case which contradicts recent calls by the Chief Coroner and Right Rev James Jones following his review of the Hillsborough Inquests for families to be entitled to non means tested legal aid funding in cases where the Prison and Healthcare are legally represented.

Kieran McLaughlin and his sister Laura, along with Stephen’s Aunt were represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Leanne Devine of Broudie Jackson Canter Solicitors and Kate Stone of Garden Court North Chambers.