Prison officer breached duty of care over inmate who died, court told

Pc 'looked up abuse victim information for person who turned out to be suspect'

A prison officer who allegedly did not remove a noose from an inmate's cell breached his duty of care by not taking action to prevent the man's suicide, a court has heard.

Joseph Travers, 55, was a custodial manager at HMP Woodhill near Milton Keynes, and was the night orderly manager when 23-year-old Ryan Harvey hanged himself on May 3 2015.

The defendant, who has been a prison officer for 25 years, is on trial at the Old Bailey charged with manslaughter by gross negligence and misconduct in a public office.

Opening the case for the crown, prosecutor Duncan Atkinson QC said: "The prosecution alleges that Travers breached his duty to take such reasonable steps to prevent the suicide of Ryan Harvey as would have been consistent with his, the defendant's, duty of care towards him."

He added: "The failure to remove the ligature was such a serious departure from the standards to be expected of a senior prison officer with responsibility for the proper care of prisoners that this amounts to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder."

Mr Atkinson said the breach involved a "significant failure" to follow instructions provided by the Prison Service designed to address the situation Travers found himself in.

The jury heard that guidance placed the "primary responsibility" on Travers to act, and that such action would have addressed the risk to Mr Harvey's life, preventing the actions that led to his death.

Mr Atkinson said Travers was responsible for the whole prison on the night of the incident and was involved in dealing with Mr Harvey, who succeeded in strangling himself with a noose he had made that day.

The court heard that Alison Barton, an officer checking on inmates subject to an action plan referred to as ACCT - Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork - found Mr Harvey with a noose around his neck at just after 8.30pm.

Mr Atkinson told the jury that Ms Barton spoke to Mr Harvey through an observation flap and sent a radio message to others alerting them to the situation.

Travers was among those who attended in answer to her emergency call, and the court heard he was also told that Mr Harvey had a noose.

Mr Atkinson said that nobody entered the cell due to Mr Harvey's threat to throw a television at anyone who came in.

The prosecutor said Travers directed that Mr Harvey be observed every half hour, but took no steps to assemble personnel he would have needed to enter the cell.

"He did not, therefore, remove the source of harm from the hands of the person who wished to harm himself.

"He did not direct continuous observation on Mr Harvey, who presented an immediate suicidal crisis, to use the words of the national guidance, nor did he for any length of time seek to engage with Mr Harvey himself to manage the risk that he posed," Mr Atkinson said.

The prosecutor said Travers made his decision about what to do, knowing that Mr Harvey "had just tried to kill himself and that he still had in his possession the means to try again".

The jury also heard that on the evening before, another prison officer saw Mr Harvey in his cell with a noose, and this prison officer went in and removed it from the cell.

Mr Atkinson said this incident was important to note because it demonstrated an "obvious contrast of approach" when comparing it to with happened the following evening.

The jury heard that in interview Travers said he had not been made aware of a ligature, but Mr Atkinson said this was contradicted by three people.

Mr Harvey hanged himself on May 3 2015 and died on May 8 as a result of hypoxic brain injury.

Travers is charged with manslaughter by gross negligence on May 8 2015, and the alternative count of misconduct in a public office on May 3 2015.

He denies the charges against him.

The trial, which is expected to last between two and three weeks, was adjourned until Tuesday.

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