New inquest ordered into inmate's death

The investigation of deaths in custody is in the spotlight after the High Court quashed a suicide verdict, says Roger Pearson.

The death of a prisoner at Bristol Prison is to be the subject of a new inquest ordered by the High Court.

The case is one which lawyers say focuses on the important subject of investigation of deaths in prison.

They emphasise that the only place for such deaths to be probed publicly is at an inquest and stress the importance of all the circumstances being made available when that happens.

Colin Middleton was a long-term prisoner who had been detained at Her Majesty's pleasure since he was convicted of murdering his niece in 1981 when he was 14.

At an initial inquest into the death of Middleton, who was found hanging in his cell last January, a jury at Avon Coroner's Court returned a verdict of suicide. The inquest lasted less than two and a half hours.

That verdict has now been successfully challenged by Middleton's mother, Jean Middleton, who had last May's verdict quashed.

She complained that the coroner had failed to bring out the full circumstances surrounding her son's death and therefore had failed to hold a proper investigation into what had happened.

The jury's verdict was quashed and a new inquest ordered by Mr Justice Sullivan after he was told by Ian Wise, counsel for Mrs Middleton, that the coroner himself now accepted the shortcomings of the inquest.

"The coroner has now accepted there were fundamental flaws in the inquest. In those circumstances it is clearly appropriate that this court should quash the verdict," said Wise.

There was no opposition from the Prison Service to the proposals for a new investigation.

The judge was told that the Prison Service, while it did not consent to the application, did not resist it either.

Richard Price, solicitor for Mrs Middleton, said the major concern was that the full circumstances surrounding Middleton's death should now be fully investigated.

"Deaths in custody raise important issues and an inquest is the only place where they can be examined," he said.