Inquest probes delay in ambulance call for dying hunger strike prisoner

Pentonville in Caledonian Road, Holloway

Pentonville in Caledonian Road, Holloway - Credit: Archant

A prisoner on hunger strike who had committed “spectacular self harm” died following a two-and-a-half hour delay in an ambulance being called, an inquest heard last week.

Patrick Murphy, 47, was serving an indeterminate sentence for aggravated burglary and robbery at Pentonville Prison – as he was deemed a risk to other people and himself.

He had been refusing food since before being moved from Brixton Prison in June 2012 until his death on October 2, 2012, and was described by staff at the prison as “in a category of his own” such were his needs.

He spent his final days at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neuroscience in Central London – where he was taken after his condition dramatically worsened following months of slow deterioration.

It is believed his abscesses may have been a result of an infection in one of his many self inflicted wounds, which he, in his malnourished state, was unable to fight off.

Dr Anshul Swami, a consultant psychiatrist who advised Pentonville Prison over Murphy’s care, said: “When he was transferred from Brixton I spoke to the substance misuse doctor who told me that Mr Murphy had served as a mercenary in the Rhodesian armed forces in South Africa and suffered from post traumatic stress.

“He had caused a great deal of spectacular self harm, cutting deeply into his arms, often down to the bone.”

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Murphy was taking methadone tablets to deal with his heroin addiction when he came under Dr Swami’s care, but this was withdrawn due to the worsening of his condition.

When his condition suddenly escalated on September 24 2012, there was a delay of two-and-a-half hours in getting the ambulance to the prison, but the jury at an inquest into Murphy’s death last week concluded in a narrative verdict that it was unclear whether this was a factor in his death.

The verdict read: “Mr Murphy died because his long term refusal of food and water, self harm and health problems reduced his ability to fight off infection and prevented his abscesses from being detected.

‘‘It is not clear whether the failure of staff to promptly call for an ambulance or the lack of availability of an ambulance caused his death.”