A Sri Lankan political refugee died in his London cell accidentally following failures by staff at Pentonville Prison to care for him due to budget cuts, an inquest has heard, the Islington Tribune reported.
Inadequate training and lack of communication and information sharing at the Caledonian Road prison contributed to the death of Satheeskumar Mahathevan, a jury at St Pancras Coroner’s Court ruled.
The 31-year-old supermarket cashier, who fled Sri Lanka’s civil war as a teenager in 1999 in fear of his life, was found hanged in his cell on April 16 and died three days later.
The jury ruled that he had not committed suicide and returned a majority verdict of accidental death.
It is the latest in a series of criticisms aimed at the prison which has been the subject of two damning reports in the last year.
In August the Tribune reported how violence was so bad that even prison officers did not feel safe and that the number of suicides in the jail had risen “alarmingly” with six young men taking their lives in four years.
In January an inspection report found it was seriously overcrowded and that drug abuse was rife.
Relatives of Satheeskumar told the Tribune of their joy and relief that he had not taken his own life but spoke of his “shattered dreams” when it came to the future of their family and their fears that other prisoners will “fall through the gaps” at Pentonville.
With the help of legal aid they are now pursuing a civil claim against the prison service.
During the five-day hearing the court was told that, as the eldest son, Mr Satheeskumar had worked for 15 years in the UK to send money back home for his sisters’ education and hoped one day to send them to university.
He had been due to return to his home village in six months to get married. Satheeskumar, who had worked for Asda and as a cashier at petrol stations, had developed mental health problems since an attempted murder in London in 2009 which left him with a severe brain injury that caused memory loss and aggression.
After being admitted to prison following a conviction for affray in March, Mr Satheeskumar, who had a dependency on alcohol, was started on a detox programme that was not continued after records were not shared.
His cellmate was granted a transfer because of his “worrying behaviour”, but an assessment was not made of his mental state. He was found hanged five days later.
A prison governor told the jury that because of cutbacks there were now not enough staff to assign a personal officer to every prisoner to look after their welfare.
In their conclusion the jury said: “Failures in relation to information sharing, multi-agency communication procedures and inadequate training for staff at the prison service have contributed to this accident.”
Mylvaganam Manicavasagar, a family friend, told the Tribune: “He was a hard worker and a strong man with strong willpower.
“He wanted to educate his sisters and help them go to university. He dedicated his life to his family. All his dreams are shattered now. No one will look after the family.”
He added: “We are very pleased that they did not say that he killed himself. The family will not now think that he killed himself and did not think of them.”
In a statement made through their legal aid lawyers Matrix chambers, the family said that they hoped the prison service and ombudsman would take the findings seriously. “Prisoners are dependent on prison staff to look into and be concerned about their welfare,” they added.
“The family hope that vulnerable people like Satheeskumar will get the care and support they need in the future.”
Coroner Mary Hassell offered her condolences to his relaxtives, who were legally represented but not present in court after their visa applications were twice refused, as the Tribune reported last week.