James Best

James BestPrison death following theft of gingerbread man

from various sources – April 2016
submitted by – Kelly Averill

Updates listed at the foot of this item

James Best aged 37, died in his cell at Wandsworth Prison, South London on 8 September 2011 just weeks after being arrested for stealing gingerbread from a looted bakery during the 2011 riots.  On the day of his death he attended the prison gym and carried out an intense workout. He later collapsed when back in his sell due to a fatal heart attack and was pronounced dead by a prison officer before an onsite nurse attended the scene.

But what makes his death and the events surrounding it worse is that he should never have even been imprisoned in the first place, his brother has said.

Prior to his arrest James had been working in Portugal and was back in the UK for a short amount of time before the riots commenced. It was known that James, a former chef suffered from mental health illnesses, alongside physical ailments including arthritis and asthma.

However, James’ illnesses were not the reason for his death. Whilst the inquest into his death acknowledged this, a coroner concluded James died of natural causes. There was also no underlying heart defect found.

Before the riots took place James was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after he was found self-harming in public.

Many individuals caught looting in the 2011 riots, were rushed through the Criminal Justice System in Birmingham and London. James was in custody due to stealing a gingerbread man, from a looted bakery during the riots, and was awaiting sentencing.

His brother said he believed that the pressure placed on the prison system by the influx of prisoners immediately after the riots, coupled with institutional failings, were behind his brother’s death.

During the inquest Mrs Daniel, James’s foster parent, argued that the onsite nurse who first tended to James following his collapse took too long to call for an ambulance. Mrs Daniel then goes on to say she believed the Ambulance was then delayed arriving at Wandsworth Prison.

An ambulance should have been summoned within one to two minutes. The defence view was that five or so minutes were reasonable for the nurse to carry out an assessment.  “The nurse tending to James had to ensure everything she did was correct and ‘by the book’, she needed to carry out detailed and accurate assessments; which of course she did.”

The judge concluded that the delay was not unreasonable. The inquest jury stated: “The initial prison officer response did not recognise the urgency of James Best’s needs and the appropriate level of medical support required.”

Mrs Daniel told the inquest she believed James’ human rights were neglected, in terms of his right to life, and made it clear she believes the justice system has let the family down.

Mrs Daniel said; “His mental and physical problems were not addressed and he was wrongly cleared to use the prison gym,”

Sharing the same point of view was James’ foster brother Owen. He told The Independent Newspaper; “James should have been placed in care due to his mental health issues rather than in a cell in one of Britain’s most dangerous prisons. He had not seen anyone from the mental health team despite requesting this.

Owen went on to describe a letter James had sent to him whilst he was in Prison regarding his mental health in prison. The jury were told that the mental health team didn’t believe James was at risk of harming himself.

There have been 11 custody deaths at Wandsworth prison between January 2010 and March 2011. Most of these deaths occurred due to individual’s self-harming or committing suicide. These deaths noted did not occur from natural occurrences or fights with other inmates in the prison.

Inspectors visiting Wandsworth prison in 2011 were highly critical of its safety record. There had been 11 deaths at the prison between January 2010 and March 2011 and “typically, there were about 32 incidents of self-harm each month”.

They also found, “frequently indifferent and sometimes abusive staff interactions with prisoners”. They condemned management at Wandsworth and Pentonville prisons for colluding during inspections to move difficult prisoners, effectively hiding them during the inspectors’ visits.

In January 2016 the family lost their High Court claim on the grounds that St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and the London Ambulance Service breached Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life, and Article Three, which prohibits subjecting anyone to “inhuman or degrading treatment”.


Follow-up News:

London riots gingerbread thief’s family loses prison death claim
19 January 2016

Human rights claim over custody death of gingerbread man thief
30 November 2015

James Best: Jailed in the riots for stealing a gingerbread man
1 April 2013

Inquest to open into death of prisoner convicted of stealing gingerbread man
17 March 2013

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