Two inquests into the deaths of women in prison to resume

By agency reporter
November 5, 2018

On Monday 5 November 2018, two significant inquests into the deaths of women in prison will resume. Jessica Whitchurch, died a self-inflicted death on 20 May 2016 in HMP Eastwood Park, days after being found with a ligature in her cell. Natasha Chin was found unresponsive in her cell in Sodexo run HMP Bronzefield on 19 July 2016. Both deaths took place in the year which saw the highest number of deaths in women’s prisons on record.

The inquest into Jessica Whitchurch's death will take place Before HM Coroner Maria Voisin in Avon Coroners Court, North Somerset from 10am. She was from Nailsea near Bristol. Her family describe her as a fun and optimistic person who loved life but faced many difficulties. While in prison she was diagnosed with a personality disorder and severe depression. Jessica Whitchurch was 31 years old when she died at HMP Eastwood Park and had a history of mental ill health and addiction. Her death was one of seven in the prison in 2016. This year there have been two further deaths at Eastwood Park since.

Emma Whitchurch, Jessica’s sister said: “Jess was the most caring person we have been lucky enough to know and we have always been proud to call her our sister. Jess had difficulties and demons in her life which she struggled to cope with. As her family we hope that there will be a rigorous investigation into all the circumstances of her death and that lessons can be learnt so that other families can be spared what we have had to endure.”

The inquest into Natasha Chin's death will take place before HM Assistant Coroner Caroline Topping at Woking Coroners Court from 10am. Natasha Chin, a black woman from Islington in London, was 39 years old when she died in HMP Bronzefield. Her family describe her as a lovely person who enjoyed making people laugh. She had alcohol and drug dependencies, a history of depression and poor physical health. Chin had been extremely unwell in prison, and evidence suggests she rang her cell bell during the evening, but this went unanswered for over three hours. She was found unresponsive in her cell after being in prison for only 36 hours.

Since Natasha Chin's death in 2016, there have been three further deaths at HMP Bronzefield. These inmates were also found unresponsive in their cells and the inquests into their deaths are yet to take place. The inquest into a 2015 death at HMP Bronzefield opened on 29 October at Woking Coroners Court and is ongoing.

Marsha Chin, Natasha’s sister said: “I hope the inquest will thoroughly examine the circumstances of Natasha's death to help us as a family understand why she died, and whether anything could have been done to prevent her death.”

Both inquests have been opened and adjourned previously. It is hoped that after over two years they will finally conclude, so the families can hear the full truth about what happened.

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said: “It is essential that these inquests provide proper scrutiny to the circumstances surrounding the untimely deaths of Natasha and Jessica. All too often prison is the default response to women who need support. As limited government action on the deaths and harms in women’s prisons continues, we believe these inquests will add to the plethora of evidence on the urgent need for change.”



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