The Inquest into the death of 21 year old Vikki Thompson, who died whilst on remand at HMP Leeds on 13th November 2015, has begun this week at Wakefield Coroner’s Court. Gemma Vine, who Heads our specialist Civil Liberties department is instructed by her family to represent them at this inquest.
The case is attracting much media attention because of the fact that Vikki was a transgender prisoner being held in a male prison. However, at the heart of the case is the disturbing issue that Vikki’s death is yet another in a long line of ‘self-inflicted’ deaths occurring at HMP Leeds.
Over the past 5 years there have been 14 self-inflicted deaths at the prison and a total of 33 since 1993. During the 17-month period following Vikki’s death there have been a further 5 self-inflicted deaths. These statistics shine a spotlight on the issue of prisoner welfare and, in particular, the protection of vulnerable prisoners at HMP Leeds.
Vikki was not simply a transgender female but was also an extremely vulnerable young person in difficult circumstances and with a number of health issues. These circumstances, together with relevant incidents in the run-up to her death will be explored during the inquest.
Of all UK prisons, HMP Leeds has the second-highest number of self-inflicted deaths [The Howard League for Penal Reform] and is already under scrutiny from the Ministry of Justice. This inquest will explore the management and care of Vikki throughout her detention at HMP Leeds. HM Coroner in this case, Jonathan Leach, has stated that one of the issues he intends for this inquest to examine will be the “suitability of the prison accommodation.”
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, a charity who support families bereaved following a state-related death said, “The fact that a 21 year old transgender woman, who had been identified as vulnerable, came to be detained in a male prison is deeply concerning. HMP Leeds has the second highest rate of self-inflicted deaths in the country. The issues surrounding Vikki’s death must be thoroughly examined in order to prevent future deaths.”