No5 Chambers barrister acts in inquest into death of prisoner

No5 Chambers barrister Ian Brownhill has acted in the inquest into the death of Edward Ham, a prisoner at HMP Oakwood. Brownhill was instructed on behalf of two of the family members. 

Late in October 2012, Edward Ham, or Steve as he was known to his friends and family, went to healthcare at HMP Birmingham with high blood pressure. Two days later, his blood pressure was still high and he was referred to a prison doctor. That doctor, without any diagnostic tests, put Steve on medication.

A few months later, Steve found himself transferred to HMP Oakwood. Upon arrival, he was asked screening questions about his health. In an inquest into Steve’s death, Brownhill asked the nurse why the cardiac questions on the screening test had not been answered. The nurse could not say. Brownhill went on to ask why no referral was made for tests for Steve. Again, the nurse could not say.

The day before he died, Steve saw a GP in the prison. He was told he was fit to go the gym. Further tests were ordered about his high blood pressure.

In the early hours of the morning of 6 February 2013, Steve rang his cell bell and complained of chest pain. No ambulance was called, nor was a doctor called. In the inquest, the coroner accepted after Brownhill’s questioning of the officers that there was uncertainty about what was said with regard to a doctor being called.

Later that morning, Steve was found unresponsive in his cell. The two private prison officers did not have more than two years’ experience between them. Chaos followed and both officers accepted that they panicked. One officer could not even enter Steve cell through fear.

When the manager arrived on scene, he could not stay long. In cross examination, he accepted that Steve’s health was not put before the security of the prison.

Eventually CPR started, but there was no access to a defibrillator, the court heard; there was not even an aspirin.

Brownhill cross-examined the staff in the control room. There should have been two staff there, but there was only one. There was confusion about who was to call an ambulance. From the moment that Steve was found unresponsive, it took an hour to call an ambulance.

In court, Dr Armitage, a doctor instructed by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman, accepted Brownhill’s suggestion that Steve had received healthcare below the standard he would have received in the community. He also agreed that the chances of survival are much greater for persons when an ambulance attends promptly.

The coroner concluded that Steve died of natural causes and received suboptimal healthcare.

Charlotte Measures, from Anthony Collins Solicitors and who instructed Brownhill, said: ‘Prisoners are entitled to exactly the same standard of healthcare as is available in the community but there were serious failings in this case.’

Anthony Collins Solicitors and Brownhill will now review the case in light of the coroner’s findings.