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Mother of dead Stradishall prisoner tells jury of her grief

HMP Highpoint
HMP Highpoint

The mother of a prisoner who was found hanging in his cell told an inquest she believes more could have been done to help her son.

David Shane Smith was found in his cell at HMP Highpoint, Stradishall, at around 11.40pm on May 23, 2014, and was confirmed dead at West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, at around 9am the following day.

A post-mortem examination recorded his cause of death as hanging, the inquest at Bury heard on Monday.

David, 38, had been taken into custody at HMP Chelmsford after being sentenced to three and a half years for supplying drugs and transferred to Highpoint, a category ‘C’ training prison, on May 23, 2014.

The inquest heard David was placed in a double cell at Highpoint and his cell mate said he woke up to find him hanging from a bed sheet.

Julie Smith, David’s mother, said her son was a “lovely man but had had a tough time in life”. She believed his drug use, which was related to all his criminal offending, was his coping mechanism.

She told the jury she thought David may have been relieved to transfer prisons because he was “in fear of his life” at Chelmsford as he believed dealers, who had been arrested after him, blamed him for setting them up.

Mark Judd, a Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigator, told the jury David had previously attempted to hang himself in prison.

He said David had asked to speak to a “listener” at Highpoint, prisoners trained by the Samaritans to speak to other prisoners in distress, but none were available and a missing phone had delayed him calling the charity’s national helpline by two hours.

Mr Judd said the prison’s emergency code system, which would have resulted in a mandatory call to the ambulance service, was not used by the staff member who attended David’s cell and it had taken a further 12 minutes for an ambulance crew to reach his cell after arriving at the prison at 12.30am.

Mrs Smith said: “As David’s parents, we’re devastated as to how the night our son died was dealt with. He was showing signs of stress which appear to have been ignored.

“We can’t understand what happened in the cell that night and why nobody helped him. We believe that if David had been given help, the outcome would have been different.”

She said nobody from the prison contacted them after David harmed himself and she “lost the chance to say goodbye” to her son. She added that his life support machine was removed without anyone asking or informing them.

The inquest continues.

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