Inquest hears custody officers failed to act on ‘suicide role play’
from various sources – December 2016
submitted by – Kelly Averill
News updates listed at the foot of this item
On 24 March 2013, Boniface Umale aged 38, took his own life whilst in HMP Durham where he was being held on remand. He was due to face trial on rape and three counts of sexual assault and had expressed concerns about his future prior to his death. A Prison Service spokesperson said: “HMP Durham prisoner Boniface Umale was found unresponsive in his cell, with his cellmate asleep a few feet away, at approximately 5am on Sunday, March 24. Staff attempted CPR and paramedics attended but he was pronounced dead at 5.55am.
The spokesperson added: “As with all deaths in custody, the Independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will conduct an investigation.”
This development followed a report on news website Nigerian Watch, in which a letter was posted by Daniel Okpla, who described himself as a friend of the late student, calling the death “mysterious”. Okpla also accused HMP Durham of “sweeping this matter under the carpet.” There were also claims from friends of the student that plans had been made to cremate Boniface without his family’s permission. Daniel Okpla’s open letter is published in full here >
Boniface’s family, who were based in Nigeria, and his solicitor received letters from Boniface, who explained his fears and his wish to end his life. But by the time they had received the letters, it was too late as Boniface was dead.
During his time in HMP Durham Boniface was receiving ‘low level support’ from Nurse Anthony Rose, who reported that he was not at risk of suicide. When first admitted he reported he was feeling low but it was assumed this was because he was new to the prison system. In early 2013 he was discharged from support due to the ‘improvement in his mood’.
During the inquest it was revealed that prison workers missed opportunities to help the vulnerable inmate who used strips of his bed sheets to fashion rope. It also came to light that he was suffering from depression and was prescribed antidepressant known as Sertraline, but he had failed to collect them from the prison dispensary in November 2012. Prison staff did not act on this failure to collect his medication.
It also emerged that months before Boniface was found dead he attempted to stage his own suicide in his cell. Using his bed sheet he had tore pieces to form a rope to use as a ligature. A Chaplin by the name of Ernesto Robertson, witnessed Boniface acting this out yet claims the “jail took no action”. Robertson believed that this was a cry for help.
During Bonface’s inquest Nigel Newcomen, from the Prisons and Probation Service Ombudsman, made a number of recommendations in order to prevent this or something similar happening again. Newcomen said that Boniface was not appropriately reviewed and did not receive the medication prescribed to him”.
Anthony Rose, the nurse attending to Boniface’s mental health needs said if he was aware of this incident his assessment of Boniface would have been very different.
At the time of Boniface’s death he had been resident in the UK for five years. A day after his death the Nigerian High Commission was informed. HMP Durham did not confirm if he was convicted of any crime and had not submitted the autopsy report to the Commission despite several requests.
Arrangements were apparently made to cremate Boniface without consulting his family, or the Nigerian High Commission. Cremation is deemed to be culturally unacceptable and would add to the great distress of his family and community if conducted.
An Idoma Community Association spokesperson said that Umale came from the Idoma tribe in Nigeria, and went on; “Usually when someone in the community dies they will have a burial and perhaps a ceremony. The burials] take in different forms depending on what the family requests.”
But an unnamed source close to the case dismissed rumours that the Prison Service had made plans to cremate Umale’s body without informing his family. “Reports that Umale’s body has or will be cremated are untrue. Umale has no next of kin in this country, but his family in Nigeria has been notified of all the facts,” the source said.
The source also stated that Umale could be buried in a ceremony in the UK, with financial contributions made by his friends.
Prison death to be investigated
7 May 2013