Michael Taylor

Michael TaylorVulnerable cocaine addict takes commits suicide in his prison cell

Compiled from various sources
published: 4WardEver UK – August 2011

Updates on this case are listed at the foot of this item

Michael, aged 39, was found hanged from the window bars of his cell by torn sheets in HMP Bedford on 17th April 2007. The family blamed his death on overcrowding and the Government’s ‘macabre game of prison chess.’ The long-term crack cocaine addict was sent there on remand for a low-level burglary charge and forced to spend 4 days in a cell suffering withdrawal symptoms as Bedford had no drug rehabilitation programme.

He was previously held on at Wormwood Scrubs, where he was on a drug rehabilitation programme taking regular doses of the cocaine substitute methadone. His father, Graham, said “When Mike got to Bedford Prison, it didn’t have the facilities to deal with his drug addiction, he was forced to go cold turkey for four days, and there were no nursing staff on at weekends.

In February 2007, two months before Michael was sent to HMP Bedford, the prison medical officer Dr Croft wrote in desperation to Patricia Hewitt MP, the then Secretary of State for health, urging change.

Michael was initially arrested having allegedly broken into a Harrow office to keep warm on a cold winter night while sleeping rough. Under a policy somewhat ironically called Operation Safeguard (where police cells are used to hold prisoners from court who cannot be placed in prison accommodation); he was taken to a police station where he was kept overnight before being sent to HMP Bedford.

Michael’s vulnerability and his treatment regime meant that he should never have been included in Operation Safeguard. He should certainly not have been sent to HMP Bedford where there were well-recognised problems in healthcare provision, particularly with regard to the treatment and care of substance users.

His father said: “We feel the system is wrong because very often the really dangerous criminals – the rapists and murderers – are not in prison. Seventy per cent of the prison population is mentally ill or addicted to drugs and the crimes they have committed are not all that serious.

“We are bitter at what happened. We will always have the hope that Mike was going into his second rehab and may have come out of drugs, and he was robbed of that because of the failing system.”

Inquest – November 2009

The November 2009 inquest heard that the inspectorate recommended that healthcare at HMP Bedford should be “urgently reviewed” so that appropriate treatment could be given

It was alleged that when Michael was admitted to HMP Bedford he was forcibly taken off methadone and made to go “cold turkey.” Prison medical officer Dr Croft called the treatment “dangerous, cruel and outmoded.”

The jury concluded: “On the balance of probabilities, we do not believe he intended to die.

“In considering this verdict, we believe the following factors contributed to his death:

“The inadequate information provided on the prisoner escort record form issued by HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs.

“The inadequacy firstly lies in the deletion and statement of ‘no known medical risk’.

“Having been placed at HM Prison Bedford, the treatment regime available was inadequate at that time.

“We believe the change in Michael Taylor’s treatment was insufficient for his needs.”

A Prison Service Order had mandated that from October 2001 prisons were to have maintenance treatment regimes for those with opiate misuse. Despite this, five years later in 2006 an HM Prisons Inspectorate report concerning HMP Bedford found that “clinical management of substance users was poor or nonexistent… men who arrived on a maintenance prescription of methadone were not able to continue with it.”

The Inspectorate recommended that matters should be “urgently reviewed” so that appropriate treatment could be given.

In chilling evidence on the last full day of the inquest a witness from the Population Management Unit (PMU) warned that with the current prison population at 84,000 and rising, Operation Safeguard could be reactivated at any time.

Michael’s family said; “Michael died as a result of a government failure to follow expert advice on the medical treatment of drug misusers. Prison overcrowding also led to a macabre game of ‘prison chess’ that ignores individual needs.

“Most disturbing of all was the evidence that we heard at the inquest that with the prison population rising the same thing could happen again.”


Follow-up News:

Father speaks out on prison overcrowding after son’s death
1 December 2009

INQUEST Press Release (PDF)
November 2009

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