Michael Tyrrell

Medical conditions of father who died went ignored in prison

compiled by Alison Leslie
published: December 2020

Updates on this case listed at the foot of this item

A Coroner ruled out neglect into the death of a convicted drug lord who was handcuffed to a prison officer as he lay dying in a North-East hospital. Michael Tyrrell, 65, died at the University Hospital of North Durham on 30 May 2013. Michael was serving his sentence at high-security HMP Frankland, Durham.

He had been in prison since October 2000 when he was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. He was initially given a sentence of 26 years which was later extended by 3 years. His sentence was later cut in half and a new release date set for March 2015.

In March 2013 Michael was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was admitted to hospital with pneumonia on the 27 May and died on the morning of 30 May 2013. The following is an account of the suffering and neglect that his family say he had suffered.

Michael’s three daughters believe that his death followed months of inadequate and demeaning treatment by Frankland prison, Durham. A Guardian investigation has later revealed that his case was not an exception; that seriously ill and dying prisoners, posing no risk of escape or harm, are regularly cuffed and chained in hospital. The cases also suggest a disturbing pattern of misdiagnosis, substandard treatment and callous disregard for the families of desperately ill prisoners.

Examples discovered include a prisoner, Michael Tyrrell, 65, dying from cancer and too weak to move; 22-year-old Kyal Gaffney, diagnosed with leukaemia, who had suffered a brain haemorrhage; and Daniel Roque Hall, 30, suffering Friedreich’s ataxia, a wasting disease that has left him barely able to use his arms or legs. All three were chained in hospital and guarded by three prison officers each.

Approximately 18 months before he died, Michael started to experience medical problems, which were believed to have stemmed from the extraction of several teeth.

During this time he made several formal complaints to the Healthcare unit operated by Care UK and the prison governor, Mr. P Fox, but the issues were not dealt with or resolved.  Despite several attempts to convince the dentist that he had an infection following the extractions he was ignored, and further teeth were removed at a later time.

It was discovered that there was indeed an infection which had not been addressed and by the time he was given antibiotics Michael was having major headaches, pain in the glands in his neck, a sore throat and difficulty swallowing.

It was only in September 2012, nearly a year after his initial complaints, that he was referred to the ENT department at Darlington Memorial Hospital. The recommendation was that he should be referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.  This referral never happened and again Michael spent months appealing for help as by now he was in constant pain and aware that his health was in rapid decline.

Michael had lost a substantial amount of weight (over 80 lbs) due to his poor health, constant pain, lack of teeth in his upper jaw and inability to consume solid food. In the absence of a prescribed liquid diet he was resorting to consuming melted ice cream as it was the only ‘suitable’ foodstuff he could access.

Michael’s condition worsened after Christmas 2012 when as well as his glands being sore and swollen, his tongue also became swollen; his speech notably deteriorated and several family members began contacting the prison directly and persistently. A family spokesperson said; “Up to this point we were unaware as to the extent of our fathers suffering. It was not until this time that we grasped the severity of the situation. For many months our father had refused visits from his family, something that was highly unusual and caused us great worry. He was simply in too much pain to sit in a visiting room and pretend he was alright.”

They went on to say;  “Our father became so desperate to be treated he called the police from prison and complained that HMP Frankland were killing him. After all of this the prison finally arranged for Michael to visit the A&E department of Sunderland Royal Hospital in March 2013 for treatment. During a visit, the consultant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, Mr. J O’Hara, instructed that an “urgent CT scan” be carried out as a lump was found in his tongue.  A biopsy was eventually completed and following a long delay the family were told that Michael had Squamos Cell Carcinoma – a terminal cancer in the tongue – which has also spread to the glands in his neck.

In May 2013 was re-admitted to hospital for a number of days due to his poor health. He was so weak that he had to be placed on an IV and fed via a tube. During this entire time he was chained to guards in an uncomfortable and undignified manner, despite his condition and obvious lack of danger or threat posed to others.

Michael’s family had claimed that they were not allowed any details of when treatment would commence, let alone have any conversations with doctors or attend hospital appointments in order to support him.  They said; “We had hoped we would see an improvement in the care of our father after his diagnosis but unfortunately that was not to be the case.”

During the second hospital admission, Michael was handcuffed to a prison officer by a chain and at 5am on 30 May he went into cardiac arrest. PC Sirrell said; “During the 40 minutes that medical staff were treating him, the chain was removed for only about five minutes.”

Michael’s condition deteriorated and staff called his family.

Sitting at Crook Coroner’s Court on 31 March 2015, Coroner Andrew Tweddle heard how a post-mortem examination revealed that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Tyrrell’s death and that he died of natural causes caused by pneumonia as a result of advanced mouth cancer. The family were not satisfied with this ruling.

Previously Michael’s family had applied (and been denied) his release on compassionate grounds saying; “We were also advised that 3 months to live was an appropriate timeframe for compassionate release to be granted and it suggested my father’s case be reviewed after treatment.  When doctors themselves don’t like to give a time scale due to the fact that everyone is different and react differently to treatment, were we being told 6-12 months left to live was too long for him to be released?  We deem this brutally unfair for a man who was described by the prison governor as “a model prisoner” and due to be released just 18 months later after serving 13 years in prison.

Last and by no means least, Article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 3 of The European Convention on Human Rights states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Well, what would you call this?


Follow-up News:

Inquests following a death in custody or detention
8 December 2016

Coroner rules out neglect of drugs lord who was handcuffed to prison officer on death bed
31 March 2015

Dying in chains: why do we treat sick prisoners like this?
9 November 2013

Dying prisoners routinely chained to hospital beds
8 November 2013

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