Shropshire Star

Suicide watch prisoner who was found dead in his cell was 'let down', accepts jail worker

A prisoner on suicide watch who was found hanged in his cell was not checked on regularly enough, an inquest has heard.

Stoke Heath prison

Martin Samuel Willis, who was an inmate at Stoke Heath Prison, near Market Drayton, was found on September 15 last year.

Prison officers found him at around 8.38am. An ambulance was called and he was given CPR, but he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

An inquest into his death at Shirehall, Shrewsbury, was told the 55-year-old had been in and out of jail since his 20s, and had paranoid schizophrenia and substance misuse problems. Mr Willis's cell was on F-Wing, a specialised area of the prison for people with drug addiction issues.

After an incident in which Mr Willis reported "hearing voices" telling him to kill himself, prison officials launched an Assessment Care in Custody Teamwork (ACCT) case for him - a protocol to try to keep inmates safe who are at risk of self-harm or suicide.

As part of Mr Willis's programme, he was supposed to be checked on once every half hour during the night and once every hour during the day. However, his log showed that many intervals were longer than they should have been. Indeed, the day he died, Mr Willis was checked on at 7am, and then not again until he was found in his cell.

One young prison officer, Hannah Groom, claimed that after Mr Willis was found, a senior staff member told her to make a false entry into the log to make it look like he had been checked on with the correct regularity.

Fellow prison officer Ian Jackson, who has now left Stoke Heath, said officers were "ran ragged" due to being understaffed around the time Mr Willis died. Mr Jackson said there was a "massive" recruitment drive at the time as the prison was only at around 81 per cent fully-staffed.

He criticised one of Stoke Heath's mental health team for spending "about two minutes" with Mr Willis after he had spent four hours talking to him and trying to get him some support.

"Whether he said 'I don't want to talk to you,' I don't know. But there should have been an attempt to get something out of him," Mr Jackson said.

He also said the leadership "wasn't there" in terms of a lack of supervising officers working at the prison.

Selina Fyffe, who was head of safer custody at the prison at the time, said she did not know why the observation times were not stuck to properly.

She accepted: "On this occasion, we let him down," referring to the lack of checks on Mr Willis.

A "portrait" of Mr Willis, written by his sister Paula, was read to the jury to paint a picture of his life.

"He was my little brother," she said. "We were the youngest two of five siblings. We were inseparable.

"Our dad was an alcoholic and abusive towards our mum. Occasionally, he would be violent towards Martin."

She said Mr Willis suffered from anxiety early on in his life, and that he was taken into care when he was young after being caught stealing.

She added that he "got in with the wrong crowd", and that she first became aware of his drug-taking when he was aged 19.

"He first went to prison in his 20s. He was in and out of prison."

She said he kept in close contact with their mother, and would stay with her between spells in prison.

"Her death had a big impact on him," she said.

Mr Willis's mental health declined in recent years, and he spend time at HMP Dovegate for extra support at one stage.

His said there was once a video circulating on social media of her brother hallucinating which was "horrible to watch".

Despite his struggles, Mr Willis was always "a joker", she said and his death left her "heartbroken".

The inquest continues.

* Whatever you're going through, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at, or visit to find your nearest branch.

*Samaritans also say sometimes writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you understand them better.

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