Serco to be sentenced over safety failures that led to custody officer’s death

·2-min read

A security contractor will be sentenced later for health and safety failings that led to a mentally-ill prisoner kicking a custody officer to death.

Humphrey Burke, now 29, attacked 54-year-old Lorraine Barwell as she tried to escort him from his cell in Blackfriars Crown Court in central London in June 2015.

Burke admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility and was handed an indefinite hospital order at the Old Bailey in January.

Ms Barwell’s employer, Serco, which is contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide security services in courts, pleaded guilty in April to one count of failure to discharge general health, safety and welfare duty from January 2014 to March 2017.

The prosecution claimed that two attacks on custody officers – Ms Barwell and Bernadette Cawley – within that period demonstrated what can happen if the right health and safety steps are not taken.

Ms Cawley, who survived the attack, was strangled and rammed up against a wall in the dock in an annex court at Woolwich Crown Court in June 2016 but no other custody staff were nearby to help when she pressed the alarm.

Serco is due to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Wednesday by Mr Justice Jeremy Baker.

Court guard death hearing
Humphrey Burke admitted killing Serco guard Lorraine Barwell (Metropolitan Police/PA)

At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Gordon Menzies said Serco’s court and escort staff were put at risk due to issues with staffing levels, information, management of information, training, management and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Ms Barwell was a member of the van crew but she had been drafted in to assist with transporting Burke from his cell to the van due to staff shortages in court.

She was not aware of Burke’s previous violent outbursts despite Serco having access to this information.

Mr Menzies said: “No-one told her or gave her any indication that this was a man who could lash out for any reason and that you could not read him or know how he would react and that is certainly what happened here.

“Without warning, he lashed out at Lorraine Barwell. He kicked her once, she fell to the ground and he kicked her again to the head and she sustained fatal injuries.

“She went into the situation blind.”

She had not been given enough “control and restraint” training and was not provided with a PPE helmet, the court heard.

On the day Ms Cawley was assaulted by a prisoner there were just 22 staff at the court when there should have been 32, the Old Bailey was told.