Beaten inmate dies in prison custody
all credits: The Independent
originally published: 4th January 1997
Any news updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
An inmate died after being beaten up in his cell by prison officers, an inquest jury was told yesterday. Peter Smith, who was in the cell next door at Belmarsh Prison, in Woolwich, south-east London, 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 Mr Severin, 25 – who had a history of schizophrenia – down the corridor.
Next morning he learned that Mr Severin was dead. He was the third black man to die in prison between October and November 1995.
Southwark Coroners’ Court heard that Mr Severin, who was unemployed, from Greenwich, south-east London, had been remanded for trying to break into a former girlfriend’s home.
In the early hours of 26 November he was moved to a strip cell in the jail’s hospital wing for allegedly being disruptive and he later collapsed.
Donna Ward, a nurse on duty, said that despite being handcuffed Mr Severin struggled so violently in the strip cell that it took six officers to control him. His family was originally told that his death was drug-related but later learned he had been restrained.
Mr Smith said he first realised something was wrong when he heard Mr Severin shouting and banging his chair. “This went on for a long time,” he recalled. “Other prisoners were getting annoyed with the noise he was making and told him to shut up.”
Mr Smith told the inquest jury that two prison officers then walked up to Mr Severin’s cell but left to get some colleagues in order to “fix this guy”.
Ms Ward said he struggled violently after being taken to a strip cell: “It was an almost unbelievable amount of struggling.” Mr Severin eventually quietened down. Checks on his pulse revealed nothing unusual. Later she said, she began to feel uneasy, saying: “It was just something I felt.”
Questioned before coroner Sir Montague Levine, Ms Ward said that although she sought help from other medical colleagues, by the time they reached him his eyes were fixed and dilated. An ambulance crew failed to revive him. Ms Ward told the inquest that Mr Severin had been “agitated” for some time before he died.
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