An inmate died after prison officers used unlawful force against him, a jury has found.
John Ahmed, a 42-year-old father of four, was subject to multiple uses of force in three separate locations at Strangeways Prison in Manchester over around twenty minutes before he became unresponsive, the court heard.
Shortly before he died, Mr Ahmed had been exercising in the prison yard with a fellow prisoner, who was seen to pick up an item and hand it to him, at which point he was led into a wing corridor to be searched by two prison officers.
It was determined that a struggle soon ensued between Mr Ahmed and the prison officers. While the officers repeatedly described the inmate's behaviour as violent and aggressive, the jury rejected this narrative and criticised the officers for their failure to employ appropriate de-escalation techniques.
It found the officers had acted “disproportionately and unlawfully” at almost every stage, referring particularly to their actions in moving Mr Ahmed between locations in a bent-over position with his hands behind his back, and keeping him handcuffed in prone, face-down restraints on the ground — in contravention of Prison Service guidance and policy.
When during the third period of restraint Mr Ahmed began foaming at the mouth and making gurgling noises before becoming unresponsive, the officers kept him in wrist locks whilst checking on his welfare, the jury heard.
An ambulance was called and CPR was carried out, but Mr Ahmed was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.
In addition to their findings on the use of force by prison officers, the jury also concluded that the supervising member of healthcare staff failed to carry out appropriate checks on Mr Ahmed’s physical wellbeing during the periods of restraint, and identified omissions on the part of the prison drug and alcohol clinicians in failing to refer him to the prison mental health team.
The coroner indicated he would make a Prevention of Future Deaths Report to draw attention to the lack of guidance in place for healthcare staff regarding their role in restraint - a situation which he deemed “untenable”.
It comes a day after the prison system was criticised following the death of a suicidal teenager, who was found hanged in his cell after receiving a letter from the Home Office saying he was liable to deportation.
John and Margaret, Mr Ahmed’s mother and father, said following the verdict: “We are happy that the truth was established through the inquest - particularly the jury’s finding that at no stage did John offer any violence or aggression, and that his death was not attributable to drug use.
“We hope that the prison authorities will address the concerns raised by Mr Meadows, and that future deaths can be prevented.”
Charles Myers of Minton Morrill Solicitors said: “This is a tragic case whereby prison staff have acted in a heavy-handed, disproportionate and unlawful manner, failing to take into account clear and obvious risk factors in their decision-making around the use of force.
“It is also incredibly unfortunate that some officers appear to have tailored their evidence at the inquest to fit a particular narrative about John, which the jury have unanimously rejected.
“It is concerning to say the least that there is such a lack of clarity on the nature of the role of healthcare in supervising the use of force by prison officers - the fact that this has apparently been under review for over ten years suggests that the issue has been ignored for quite some time.
“It is hoped that the coroner raising this issue through official channels will lead to proper consideration by NHS England of appropriate policy and training for all prison healthcare staff.”
Deborah Coles, Director at INQUEST said: “John died as a result of the unlawful use of force by prison officers. That he died at the hands of those who should have been protecting him is deplorable.
“This inquest has heard disturbing evidence about the failure of prison staff to adhere to their own guidance that restraint should be the last resort and that prone restraint carries inherent risks.
“Restraint related deaths are extremely rare in prison and this inquest points to the need for an urgent review by NOMS and NHS England into use of force, to ensure that health care and prison staff are fully aware of their roles and the need for safety of prisoners to be paramount during any restraint.
“Given the ongoing concern about drugs in prison and the potential for restraint to be used, it is essential that these issues are addressed urgently.”
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “This is a tragic case and our thoughts are with the family and friends of John Ahmed. We will now carefully consider the findings of the inquest.“