A woman who was “forced” to give birth in a prison toilet after a nurse mistook her labour for period pain is considering legal action in a bid to get “justice” for her stillborn baby.
The “shocking” circumstances in which Louise Powell gave birth while behind bars at HMP Styal in June 2020 were laid bare in the findings of a watchdog investigation published on Tuesday.
Prisons and probation ombudsman (PPO) Sue McAllister said staff made a “serious error of judgment” when they did not visit Ms Powell or properly assess her after she started bleeding and reported being in pain – wrongfully deciding she was having a painful period.
She concluded there were “missed opportunities” to identify that Ms Powell needed urgent clinical attention in the hours before she gave birth.
Her lawyer Jane Ryan said experts believe Ms Powell’s daughter, Brooke, may still be alive if she had been properly assessed and legal action against the Government and the healthcare provider is being considered.
The solicitor at Bhatt Murphy told the PA news agency: “My client will be taking all legal avenues available to her to seek accountability for what happened.”
Describing Ms Powell as “completely devastated” by the incident, she added: “It is inhumane to leave a woman howling in pain unaided and forced to give birth in a toilet.
“Our independent expert midwife concurs with the consultant obstetrician that had Louise been properly assessed, the outcome may have been different and Brooke may have survived.”
Ms Powell said: “I want justice for Brooke and for her story to be told. I feel I was let down and Brooke was let down by the people that were supposed to look after us. It was a situation that could have been avoided. I hope this never happens to another woman in prison and that babies are protected.”
The 30-year-old did not know she was pregnant and did not believe she could be.
Fellow inmates and staff had “no suspicion” this was the case until the baby girl was born prematurely – possibly at between 27 and 31 weeks –in the toilet of her mother’s cell block of the Cheshire prison, according to the PPO report.
Prison staff called the duty nurse three times to raise concerns about the prisoner over two hours but, without visiting her or properly assessing her, “concluded incorrectly that she was bleeding and suffering severe stomach pain as a result of a painful period”.
The nurse in question has been referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council and is facing disciplinary action.
Prisons minister Victoria Atkins said “improvements have been made to the care received by pregnant women in custody”, adding: “The tragic events detailed in this report should quite simply never happen to any woman or child, and my deepest sympathies remain with the mother.”
Spectrum Community Health CIC, which runs healthcare services at the prison, said it is “fully committed to ensure that lessons are learnt and that recommendations in the report are acknowledged and actioned following this tragic incident”.
Last year, another damning report revealed how a newborn baby died after a teenage girl gave birth alone in a cell in Europe’s largest women’s prison, HMP Bronzfield in Middlesex, despite calling staff for help.