Man who hanged himself in jail was failed by system, sheriff says

Shetland man Dylan Stickle, who hanged himself in Aberdeen prison, was assessed by staff as not being a suicide risk despite having a history of trying to kill himself, including an attempt just two months previously during a previous spell in the prison.

A fatal accident inquiry into the 25-year-old remand prisoner’s death in 2006 found it could have been prevented if the authorities at Craiginches had not fouled up the basic procedures for admitting him after he was brought down from court in Lerwick.

Mr Stickle died during the night of 26th October 2006 in his cell where he had made a noose from a duvet cover and tied it to the bars of the window. It was his fourth night in custody and his first one alone after his cellmate had been released that day.

In his determination, published on Tuesday, Sheriff James Tierney highlighted a series of failures by Scottish Prison Service staff. The prison social worker failed to pass on a faxed letter from a social worker in Shetland which warned the prison on the day Mr Stickle was admitted that he was suicidal. The prison social worker even knew of Mr Stickle’s previous suicide attempt in the prison and other self-harming behaviour.

When Mr Stickle arrived at the prison on 23rd October the reception officer failed to read his notes which recorded the previous suicide attempt and a reception nurse was unable to access the notes she should have read before assessing him because her computer could not con­nect to the prison computer system. As a consequence, Mr Stickle was not assessed as “at risk”.

The sheriff found the system for carrying out health assessments to be defective in not paying regard to prisoner escort records (PER).

Mr Stickle’s PER listed his recent attempted suicide and warned he had been under a strict monitoring regime while in the custody of the prisoner escort company Reliance.

Mr Stickle’s mother, Phyllis Stickle, who lives in Cunningsburgh, gave evidence at the fatal accident inquiry in 2007. She said her son suffered great behavioural changes from late childhood which made him into an unhappy, violent and dangerous young man, posing a threat particularly to his close family. He had seen and suffered violence in childhood, she said, and by the age of 13 was in care and suffering a personality disorder. By 15 he was saying he wanted to die and was sent to the special Oakbank School in Aberdeen.

At 16 he began living in supported accommodation in Aberdeen and started taking heroin. He lived in various parts of Scotland before moving to Portugal. He became addicted to prescribed drugs and alcohol. He attempted suicide by different methods and was detained in a mental hospital in Portugal.

Less than two months after returning to Shetland he was in Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen after attempting suicide. Back in Shetland again he was arrested for assault and sent to Craiginches in July 2006. The night before he was due to come back to Lerwick for sentencing he tried to hang himself but the other prisoner in his cell intervened. Returning to prison after his court appearance, he told a social worker he intended killing himself and it was recorded in his prison records.

A few days after his release in October 2006 he again headed north. On the boat he made an abusive and threatening call and was arrested when he arrived in Lerwick. The court remanded him in custody in Craiginches again on 23rd October on a charge of breach of the peace and he was taken back to Aberdeen. The criminal justice social worker in Lerwick, Joy Whitelaw, advised the prison social worker by fax that Mr Stickle wanted to kill himself. The letter was not given to the reception authorities at the prison, despite it being required by pro­cedures. The procurator fiscal in Lerwick also dictated a letter to be faxed to the prison governor stating that Mr Stickle was a suicide risk but there is no record that it was received. In Aberdeen the system in place for ensuring that procedures were put in place to cope with prisoners at risk was not properly carried out.

The sheriff accepted that it was probably inevitable that Mr Stickle would succeed in his suicide bids at some time but his death in the prison that night might have been prevented.

Responding to the criticism in the report, a spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said it would consider and address the findings in the inquiry report. He added: “SPS expresses sympathy with his family for the loss of Dylan Stickle.”


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