Call for psychiatric training after Norwich prison death

Ben KendallNorfolk's coroner will ask the Ministry of Justice to consider introducing mandatory mental health training for all prison officers following the suicide of a Norwich inmate.Ben Kendall

Norfolk's coroner will ask the Ministry of Justice to consider introducing mandatory mental health training for all prison officers following the suicide of a Norwich inmate.

Yesterday, a jury concluded - after a two-day inquest at Norwich's Assembly House - that Arenijus Leonovas, 20, committed suicide while in a disturbed state of mind.

Leonovas, who had been serving a sentence for affray, was found hanged in his cell at Norwich prison on January 26 last year. Earlier he had told prison officers of his fear he would die in prison after reporting threats from fellow inmates.

The inquest had heard evidence that although it was common for prisoners to shout threats during the night, prison officers had not been able to find any suggestion of a specific threat being made to Leonovas.

Summing up the inquest, coroner William Armstrong said there had been no evidence at the time to suggest he was suffering from a psychiatric condition. However, in hindsight some prison staff believed this may have been the case.

Commenting on the verdict, Mr Armstrong added: "There has been an investigation by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman which has made recommendations, most of which have been accepted and implemented by HMP Norwich.

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"Norwich prison has made considerable progress in addressing those issues and there are some very dedicated professionals at the prison working hard to reduce self-harm and suicide.

"I propose to write to the Ministry of Justice to raise an issue which isn't exclusive to Norwich prison: that is the issue of mental health awareness training for prison officers.

"We do not know if he was mentally ill but there must be a suspicion that he had suffered a psychotic condition as a result of a psychiatric breakdown."

Mr Armstrong added that there were disturbingly high levels of suicide and self-harm among the nation's prison population.

Karen Jewiss, senior investigator for the Prison and Probation Ombudsman, said recommendations made to the prison had included better use of translators and increased provision for foreign national prisoners and greater involvement from health professionals when dealing with reports similar to that made by Leonovas.

Leonovas' death was the third at the prison in less than two months - Martin Dixon, 48, and Adam Baughurst, 22, were also found in their cells - leading to a review of safety within the jail.

Leonovas, originally from Lithuania but who had more recently been living in Great Yarmouth, had been sentenced to two years in prison for an affray offence in August 2008. The sentence was later reduced to one year on appeal.

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