Shropshire Star

Weapons found and drugs 'kept getting in' to wing where suicide watch prisoner was found dead

“Tensions were high” on a prison wing where an inmate on suicide watch was found dead and convicts had weapons in their cells.


The inquest of Martin Samuel Willis, a prisoner at Stoke Heath jail, Market Drayton, was told how illegal drugs “kept getting in” and how one prison officer found a plank of wood with nails through it hidden behind a bin.

Mr Willis had drug problems, and was incarcerated on the prison’s F-Wing – a specialised area for people with addiction issues. At the inquest at Shirehall, Shrewsbury, the jury was told how a nurse raised fears that he may be being bullied. Her email to colleagues was not acted on.

Mr Willis, a paranoid schizophrenic who had been in and out of prison since his 20s, died aged 55 on September 15 last year.

During the second day of the inquest, prison officers said when Mr Willis was found they tried in vain to revive him for about an hour, and the pressures facing the staff.

A statement from Stoke Heath prison officer Jay Groves was read to the jury. He said that drugs getting on to the wings were causing inmates to behave “more erratic”, and that with drugs in prison comes debt.

“Weapons were found in cells,” he said. “I found a plank of wood with nails sticking out behind a bin. It was clear tensions were high.”

Looking back on Mr Willis’s death, he said: “We were giving him chest compressions for about an hour. I felt exhausted. I was gutted we couldn’t save him.

“I found myself feeling tearful,” he said, referring to how he was later during his shift after Mr Willis died.

“I don’t feel like I was given a great deal of support by the prison service,” he added.

It was Mr Groves’ colleague, Kyle Birch, who found Mr Willis at around 8.38am. Mr Groves and colleagues were moving prisoners to get medication when Mr Birch was “sprinting” towards them, shouting that he thought Mr Willis had hanged himself.

Mr Willis had barricaded the door using a cupboard, so officers had to try to force it open. They created a gap big enough for Mr Birch to squeeze through, and he moved the cupboard so colleagues could get into the cell and assist him.

One officer, Matthew Vasey, said: “We need to get to work on him,” and they commenced CPR. They tried to use a defibrillator, but it couldn’t detect a heart rhythm and would not activate to deliver a shock. Paramedics arrived and pronounced Mr Willis dead at around 10am.

After Mr Willis heard voices telling him to kill himself he was made subject of a Assessment Care in Custody Teamwork (ACCT) case meaning, . As part of that protocol - which is used to keep inmates safe who are at risk of self-harm or suicide - Mr Willis should have been checked on regularly. every half hour during the night and hourly during the day.But The time difference between his last check and when he was found dead was one hour and 38 minutes, and his record showed a lack of frequency with other checks.

Several officers who have given evidence at the inquest have said they knew Mr Willis was subject of an ACCT, but did not know how regularly he should have been checked on.

The inquest was told that Mr Vasey, a prison officer of 19 years, instructed colleague Hannah Groom, who had only been working at Stoke Heath for 12 months, to make a false entry into the log to say Mr Willis had been checked on at 7.30am. He later scribbled it out.

He told John Ellery, senior coroner for Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, that he “expected” a check would have been done, and that it was common practice for colleagues to fill in ACCT form observation logs for each other.

Mr Ellery said he did not understand how people are expected to trust any of the entries if that was the practice.

“Is that acceptable?” he asked Mr Vasey about telling Ms Groom to write the false entry.

“No,” he admitted, but said there was “mitigation”. He said his decision making was affected because giving CPR to Mr Willis reminded him of doing the same for his dad, who had died a couple of months earlier.

Officers also spoke about how Mr Willis was a “nice man” who “complied with the regime”. They said he was quiet but had a few friends on the wing, and was polite to officers.

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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