Suicidal teen dies in jail
by Mikey Powell Campaign
Originally published 16th November 2004
Any news updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
Petra Blanksby’s Father, Peter, told us that she had been charged with, “Arson with intent to take her own life. “That was the charge. “Three weeks prior to her tragic death Petra was in hospital for doing the same thing for 6 days, why? “It will be 1 year this month (24th November 2004) when they switched the life support off and we watched my beautiful daughter take her last heart beat at 11.43 am.”
Nineteen year old Petra Blanksby died in hospital in November 2003 after trying to strangle herself. She had tied a shoelace around her neck in her cell at New Hall Prison, Wakefield, West Yorkshire where she had been on remand effectively for attempting suicide. She was remanded in custody for arson with intent, which her family maintains was actually an attempt to take her own life and not to endanger others.
Petra was taken to hospital where she died after an agonizing family decision to have her life support machine turned off. She died with her family at her side including twin sister, Kirsty. After 5 nights and 6 days by her side, Kirsty and her father, Peter, kissed Petra goodbye as the doctor switched off the oxygen supply.
Of her last moments, Petra’s twin says, “I held her hand and gave her a kiss as she took her last heartbeat. “She’d been thrashing around and her eyes were opening and closing. I knew this was it.”
Petra met her death after years of trauma, and her family question whether she should have been locked up in an institution at all.
She had been abused as a child and had been self-harming herself by cutting, burning or overdosing since she was 12 years old. She was also known to suffer from severe depression. In the months before Petra was put on remand, she had swallowed razor blades, overdosed, burnt her hair off, and tried to throw herself off a bridge.
The arson charge she was remanded on was yet another attempt on her own life. During her five months in prison, despite being on suicide watch, she self-harmed 92 times. Her sister, Kirsty is asking why Petra was allowed to be sent to prison when she actually needed psychiatric care. She and her family are angry there was no resident psychiatrist at New Hall Prison.
Prison workers had admitted that they were not equipped to cope with Petra’s problems. Kirsty commented, “The prison staff are wonderful, but they don’t have the facilities they need.” Petra’s father also said “You only had to glance at her history to know she should not have been there.”
Kirsty understands her twin’s illness. She has also self-harmed causing herself serious injuries. ‘The deeper you cut, the better you feel,’ she explains. ‘It is a way of coping when bad things happen. “For Petra, it was a way of coping every day. You are hurting so much inside you can’t let it go unless you hurt yourself.”
The twins were put into care when they were nine and were split up. Their childhood was extremely traumatic. They spent many years in and out of hospital after self-harming incidents. Kirsty says of her scars, “These marks represent all the emotional hurt and I will not live my life ashamed of them.” More painful still was the lack of understanding of their mental health problems. “We were not treated as normal people. “We can’t help it, it’s an illness. If someone has a broken leg, everyone runs about after them yet if you have mental health problems people ignore it because they don’t understand.”
The family does not think Petra would have died outside prison, because there was always someone monitoring her behaviour and lending support. Petra thought she had 7 years ahead of her in prison and nothing to live for. She had a young son who was adopted a month before she died. It is said that Petra’s medical records notes recorded that she had once said, “Once he [her son] was safe, she would be free to go.”
On 13th November Petra had sent a visiting order to her sister, but Kirsty did not receive it in time because she was in hospital herself following an overdose. A day after she was discharged she was told by telephone that Petra was in intensive care in Pinderfields Hospital and was never to see her sister conscious again.
Petra was not alone. She was one of 14 women who took their lives in prison in 2003. By July 2004 there been a further 9 suicides. In one women’s prison there were 209 self-harm incidents up to June 2004 alone, with one death. These involved 41 adults and 11 young offenders and included burning, self-strangulation and swallowing glass.
Pauline Campbell, whose daughter Sarah took an apparent overdose of antidepressants at HMP Styal, Cheshire, said the number of deaths is too high. “Prison should be about loss of freedom, not loss of life.
The government would do well to remember this, at the same time acknowledging that all prisoners are owed a legal duty of care.” She added, “Ordinary people have no idea how many woman are dying in prisons and the unacceptable conditions they endure. “Every time a woman in prison takes her own life we will hold a protest. We will lay flowers for her and make sure the public know what is happening.”
Petra’s family are now awaiting an inquest into her death. Her sister said, “How can they punish you for trying to kill yourself. “Petra was so special, everybody loved her. “The bond between us is broken now but I want to change things so that women like Petra do not die in prison.”
The short and desperate life of Petra, the girl nobody helped
3 February 2008
Inquest opens into death of 19-year old (pdf file – off-site)
9 January 2008
Why was my self-destructive daughter sent to prison?
26 November 2004
Suicides levels in women’s prison soar
4 January 2004