'Loving' teen found dead in prison 'was being threatened by dealers', family claims

Protest banner put up by loved ones of Michael "Mikey" Horton
-Credit: (Image: John Myers)


The family of a "loving" 19-year-old who is reported to have taken his own life at a Welsh prison have slammed his "appalling" experience at the troubled jail. Michael "Mikey" Horton, from Newport, is one of nine inmates at Bridgend's HMP Parc to have died suddenly in the last three months.

Mikey's family were among the dozens of people who protested outside Parc on Monday morning, calling for G4S — the private security giant that runs the prison — to be stripped of its £400million contract. Bereaved families led chants of "G4S out" and marched around the edge of the prison with placards bearing messages such as "stop the drugs" and "HMP Corrupt to the Core". It comes after WalesOnline revealed allegations from former staff members and prisoners of drug-dealing, violence, corruption, chronic understaffing and a lack of mental health support.

G4S said the safety of staff and prisoners was its priority and that it has "a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs". Its spokeswoman said all mental health support is based on an assessment and operates in the same way as it would in the community.

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Frances Jones, 60, described her nephew Mikey, who died on May 7, as "a very loving boy". She said: "He was always in trouble but he was paying for his crime and doing his time. He deserved to walk out of here in November, not come out in a black bag.

"He had a very severe addiction on the outside world. We nearly lost Mikey around a year ago through boys who thought it rather funny to give Mikey these drugs and left him on a doorstep to die. We thought we had got through that. When someone goes to prison, you don't expect them to get the drugs in here. It is appalling."

Frances Jones at the protest outside Parc prison in Bridgend
Frances Jones at the protest outside Parc prison -Credit:John Myers

Although G4S has told them the death was a suicide, Mikey's family suspect drugs played a significant role in the lead-up. Mikey had told them that the laundry where he had been working was a distribution point for drugs, the family said.

They said they started receiving calls from people asking for hundreds of pounds because Mikey "had run up a drug debt". Frances said Mikey was subjected to controlling behaviour from dealers, who allegedly ordered him to throw boiling water on another prisoner. Mikey refused to do this, she said, which allegedly led to him receiving threats and fearing for his own safety.

She added that there were times when Mikey was locked in his cell for 23 hours a day. "He was a very lonely boy," said Frances, who believes he should have received more mental health support.

On the morning the family learned of his death, they allegedly found out more detail from WalesOnline's reporting than they had received from G4S. Frances claimed that it was only after fighting for answers from the G4S liaison officer that the family learned Mikey had been found hanged. They are awaiting toxicology results to find out if he had taken drugs before his death. “We are appalled at what he went through,” said Frances. “We want G4S out now, and we will do whatever we can to get them out.”

Right to left: Justin Lewis' sister Naomi Lewis, his niece Shanna Hiscox and his close friend Vicky Dowding
Right to left: Justin Lewis' sister Naomi Lewis, his niece Shanna Hiscox and his close friend Vicky Dowding -Credit:John Myers

Also protesting outside the prison were the family of Justin Lewis, a 29-year-old from Newport who reportedly took his own life on March 16. Justin's niece Shanna Hiscox, 20, described him as “charismatic and charming" with an "incredible" talent for art, a love of magic tricks and "a great sense of humour".

His sister Naomi Lewis, 31, said he was meant to be under monitoring every hour for potential self-harm, but alleged he was not checked for five hours before his death, which G4S has told the family was a suspected suicide. She believes staff should have safeguarded Justin better, given he had been admitted to hospital for serious self-harm just weeks before his death.

Naomi said the family were left "in disbelief and heartbroken" by the news of Justin's death. Responding to prisons minister Edward Argar’s recent claim that Parc is "safe" and "well-run", Naomi said: “No, I disagree. You don't see [deaths] happening on this scale in other prisons. They are understaffed, there is no duty of care, they get all this money and they are not doing their jobs properly." And speaking about the reports of rife drug-dealing, she said: "It's shocking. It's just so easily accessible... Families are losing their loved ones. We don’t want to see anyone else die.”

Tanya Hardy, whose son Guy-Scott Pallemaerts died by suicide in the Mount prison in Herts. She travelled hundreds of miles to join the protest against what she says is a 'national problem'
Tanya Hardy, whose son Guy-Scott Pallemaerts died by suicide in the Mount prison in Herts. She travelled hundreds of miles to join the protest against what she says is a 'national problem' -Credit:John Myers

Tanya Hardy travelled hundreds of miles to Parc from her home in Suffolk to raise awareness of the wider problems in the UK prison estate. She said her son Guy-Scott Pallemaerts, a 28-year-old father of two, died by suicide in the Mount prison in Hertfordshire last October after an alleged lack of mental health support. “Prisons should be about losing your liberty, not your life,” she said. You can see more of our coverage from the protest here.

A G4S spokewoman said: “We extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who have died recently at Parc. As with all deaths in custody, these are being investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. The safety of staff and prisoners is our priority. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs and use a range of tactics to tackle the ingress of drugs and reduce demand. This includes robust security measures for staff, visitors and prisoners as well as substance misuse support to those in our care."

Protesters outside Parc prison: Pictured is Jessica Hussey, sister of the late Parc prisoner Jason Hussey
Protesters outside Parc prison: Jessica Hussey, sister of the late Parc prisoner Jason Hussey, is demanding 'justice over profit' -Credit:John Myers

She continued: "The vast majority of our staff are hard working and honest. As with every other prison in the country, we work closely with the Police and the HMPPS counter-corruption team to crack down on the small number who may break the rules. All mental health support is based on an assessment and operates in the same way as it would in the community. In line with national policy, prisoners at risk of self harm or suicide are managed by a multi-disciplinary team and have a tailored support plan.” The spokeswoman added that Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board provides primary and secondary healthcare services at Parc. We have approached the health board for comment.

Two of the nine recent deaths are thought to be from natural causes and at least four from drugs, according to the Ministry of Justice, which has issued an urgent notice on G4S to improve security at Parc.

For mental health support, contact the Samaritans on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.