Unnecessary death in London Jail of individual with Schizophrenia

A homeless schizophrenic remanded for trying to break into a former girlfriend's home, died after being beaten up in his cell by prison officers, an inquest jury was told today. Fellow prisoner Peter Smith, who was in the cell next door, claimed the thuds of their kicks landing on Kenneth Severin's body were clearly audible. "He kept on shouting `call the police, call the police'. Gradually his voice got lower and lower, fading away ... then his voice stopped," he told the hearing.

Looking through the hatch in his cell door a short while later he saw several officers dragging 25-year-old Mr Severin -- who had a history of schizophrenia -- down the corridor. Next morning he learnt that he had died.

  Mr Severin's family was originally told his death was drug-related but then learnt he was restrained, his sister, Lily Jones, told Southwark Crown Court. The father of two, from Greenwich, south London, - the third black man to die in prison between October and December 1995 - had been arrested on November 1 on suspicion of attempted burglary, the court heard. Pc David McIntyre said the dead man, who had no previous convictions but was carrying a black jemmy, had been "not at all" aggressive on his arrest. He said: "He was quite placid and reasonable. He didn't seem overly concerned. He appeared to be slightly slow in his thinking but nothing that caused me any concern."

On admission to Belmarsh, Mr Severin was assessed by a part-time medical officer.

Dr Theuraibbh Nathan told the court: "He appeared well physically and mentally. Even though he had a history saying that he had suffered from mental illness - he was in Greenwich hospital for three months - I didn't find any signs of mental illness at that time."

On assessing Mr Severin he made the note: "He appears well, low intelligence, no voices or hallucinations."

The dead man had been taking the medication Respiradol to control his mental illness since 1990, and had stayed in the Maudesley hospital in 1990 and was sectioned for three months in the psychiatric department of Greenwich hospital in 1994.

A full-time prison doctor, Dr Tudor de Silva, who carried out a lengthier assessment, while recognising him as a schizophrenic, said: "I could not see him as an acutely mentally ill person at that stage." Nurses notes on November 13 referred to his "bizarre behaviour" and "inappropriate speech", but psychotic symptoms did not emerge until the 20th, when he was taken to the segregation unit for refusing to move a cup from the observation hatch in his cell door, said Dr De Silva.

At this time, the prison doctor stepped up attempts to gain the patient's medical records. But, despite writing to his consultant psychiatrist, GP and community psychiatric team, he had no success.

Commenting on this, coroner Sir Montague Levine said: "In the whole time he was there there was no information between Belmarsh prison and the NHS. It seems appalling on the face of it, doesn't it?"

The coroner was also critical of the failure of Greenwich magistrates to order psychiatric reports, despite seeing Mr Severin on three occasions, and "the lack of communication" between nurses and doctors at Belmarsh prison. The inquest was adjourned until tomorrow.

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