Mysterious death of vulnerable inmate
compiled from various sources
compiled by: Larry Fedja – November 2019
Updates on this case listed at the foot of this item
Charlotte Nokes, aged 38, was originally sentenced to 15 months in prison, but had served more than eight years at the time of her death on 23 July 2016 at HMP Peterborough, a private prison run by Sodexo. Prisoners such as Charlotte were often given a minimum term sentence but would not be released until a parole board was satisfied they were not a danger to the public.
Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences were introduced in 2003 by Lord David Blunkett. By 2010 there were approximately 10,000 prisoners serving IPP sentences, over ten times more than intended when they were first brought in under the Criminal Justice Act in 2003.
In 2012, the sentence was abolished under the Coalition government thanks to a European Court ruling that claimed it violated human rights. However, its abolition wasn’t retrospective, meaning there were still 3,500 prisoners serving the sentence without a release date, costing those inside their sanity and the taxpayer approximately £131m per year. It is understood that Charlotte was the first person to have died in a women’s prison while serving an IPP sentence.
Her family appealed for answers about her death and struggled with mounting legal costs. Legal aid is not normally provided for civil cases such as inquests, and the family were forced to use crowdfunding to pay for costs and been granted some legal aid for the inquest after applying for support. However further process delays increased costs, including those to cover their accommodation during the many hearings.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “While our review of legal aid showed that representation is not necessary for the majority of inquests, we are making changes to ensure there’s more support for bereaved families and conducting a review of the means test. Bereaved families also have a special status which means that the coroner can ask questions on their behalf to help ensure they get the answers they need.”
Charlotte was born in Hayling Island in Hampshire. Known to her family as Charlie or Lottie, they described her as funny, intelligent, charismatic and creative. Charlotte was also an incredibly talented artist.
Her artwork was supported by charities such as the Michael Varah Memorial Fund and the charity Women in Prison. Her art was exhibited by the Koestler Trust, a charity which helps people who have spent time in prison, immigration detention and mental health settings to express themselves creatively. Charlotte’s dream was to live in London and study art.
Charlotte had mental and physical health diagnoses including Borderline Personality Disorder and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD, a severe form of premenstrual syndrome). In the months leading up to her death, Charlotte was prescribed heavy doses of medication to treat her mental and physical health that often left her appearing heavily sedated. She was under suicide and self-harm monitoring procedures (known as ACCT) at the time of her death.
An account from Charlotte’s sister:
My sister Charlie – known as Lottie to much of her family – was the middle child of three siblings. She was funny, charismatic and creative. We grew up on Hayling Island, Hampshire together, with our parents.
When Charlie was about 14 years old our parents split up and she also came out as gay. This was a difficult time for her, with many issues to come to terms with. Most people were welcoming of her sexuality, but there were many who were not. Was this the start of her declining mental health – who knows?
What I do know is that very soon after this she began experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and by the time she was 20 she was an addict. Petty crimes are typical of many drug addicts, and Charlie was not an exception. I distanced myself from her world to protect myself and my new young family.
I lost count of how many times she was in court or sent to prison for very minor offences. It just became the norm. By the age of 30, Charlie’s drug addiction had worsened, and she had a serious alcohol dependency.
She was arrested on her 30th birthday for street robbery and eventually sentenced to on an indeterminate IPP sentence (Imprisonment for Public Protection) in January 2008. Charlie was to serve a minimum term of 15 months and would be released when the parole board assessed she was not a risk. See the full article here >
Charlottes family had hoped that the inquest would explore the following issues:
- the cause of Charlotte’s death;
- the treatment of Charlotte’s mental health in HMP Peterborough, including the monitoring of the impact of the drugs she was prescribed on her physical health;
- the use of segregation in HMP Peterborough;
- Charlotte’s cell observations on 22-23 July 2016;
- the temperature of Charlotte’s cell on 22-23 July 2016
Charlotte’s father had said that the inquest “felt like a trial.” Stating that other interested parties, including the Prison Service and NHS, were paying for barristers, which the family would struggle to pay for without help.
He said: “Nothing is going to bring her back but if we can get some answers which actually saves anybody else from going through this it is worth it.”
Peterborough prison death family ‘treading water’
14 October 2019