Vulnerable mother was victim of a flawed system
Compiled from various sources
submitted by: Tippa Naphtali – November 2013
Updates on this case are listed at the foot of this item
Melanie Beswick was 34 years old when she died on 21 August 2010. She was found hanging from a ligature made from shoelaces attached to the window of her cell in HMP Send. At 7.30am on the day of her death she was found by prison staff beneath her bed.
There was no sign of physical injury so they left her there but she remained unresponsive and was later taken to hospital. She was returned to the prison but at approximately 8.35pm was found dead.
The discovery of Melanie under her bed on the morning of her death was later linked to an incident some three weeks earlier on 2 August when the prison chaplain, Reverend Lesley Mason, was asked if she could visit Mrs Beswick in her room to try to get a response.
Rev. Mason said; “I went in and sat on the floor next to where she was lying curled up. Then I started to talk to her about anything I could think of, I was reminding her that God loved her and that she was special – that nobody wanted her to come to any harm”.
Melanie was 32 when she took a job as a finance officer at her local Citizens Advice Bureau in Portsmouth. She was married, with two young daughters, aged 4 and 7, and had been suffering from post-natal depression since her first child was born.
She began stealing money three months into the job to pay back loans, and in a 10-month period was found to have taken a total of about £20,000. Melanie pleaded guilty to 8 counts of fraud at Portsmouth Crown Court and in March 2009 she was given a nine month prison sentence for fraud. This was her first offence.
Melanie was sent to a women’s prison in Middlesex. She had a long history of depression and went on to self harmed on several occasions during her first period of imprisonment, and had also made her first attempt at suicide.
Confiscation proceedings were brought and following her release Melanie was ordered to repay the money she took within 6 months or serve a further 12 month prison sentence in default. Short of selling the family home and making her husband and two young children homeless Melanie could not repay the money in time and was subsequently sent back to prison by the court.
In May 2013 an inquest jury returned a verdict that Melanie took her own life while the balance of her mind was disturbed, but that failures in communication between the prison and the hospital, and internally within the prison, contributed to her death.
The Church of England chaplain at the Send prison, Reverend Lesley Mason, spoke at the inquest of the ‘complete shock’ she felt when Melanie died. She said; “Mrs Beswick had expressed worries about bullying in the prison and whether she would be accepted by the community on her release”.
The Coroner made two rule 43 reports recommending changes in the way information is shared between hospitals and prisons nationally and changes in the way suicide risk is managed at HMP Send in particular.
Frances Cook of the Howard League for Penal Reform commented; “The family and lawyers are asking questions about what happened to Melanie Beswick while she was in prison, but perhaps the more important question is why she was sent to prison in the first place. Inquests and public inquiries into deaths in prison never hold the sentencing court to account.
“I remember giving evidence to the public inquiry examining the murder in Feltham of Zahid Mubarek, a first-time prisoner and was five hours from the end of a 90-day sentence for stealing razor blades worth £6. The prison was, rightly, severely criticised for its lack of care, but the magistrates who sent Zahid Mubarek to his death were never called to account for their decision. Inquests and public inquiries should hold magistrates and judges to account for their decisions too”.
Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said; “This is a shocking death of a woman who should never have been sent to prison. She was a first time, non violent offender with mental health problems, a history of self harm and had been recognised as a serious suicide risk.
“Six years ago Baroness Corston’s report warned that a fundamental overhaul of the way women were dealt with in the criminal justice system was needed as a matter of urgency. Everything highlighted in her review sadly holds true for this case and demonstrates the dire consequences of not implementing her recommendations.
“Prisons cannot safely deal with vulnerable women with complex mental health needs. The Government must urgently introduce proper alternatives to prison so that no other child is deprived of a caring mother and no other family is left with the tragic loss after a death that could and should have been prevented.”
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Melanie Beswick, victim of a flawed system
3 May 2013
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