Pentonville prisoner was psychotic and may have been hearing voices in his head, inquest hears

Pentonville in Caledonian Road, Holloway

Pentonville in Caledonian Road, Holloway - Credit: Archant

A prisoner who was found in his cell with a bag and belt around his head had slipped into a state of psychosis and may have been hearing voices in his head, an inquest heard - casting doubt over his claims he had been bullied by prison officers.

James Duggan, 27, was found in HMP Pentonville on the day his father had turned up to visit him. He was resuscitated and taken to the Whittington hospital where he died two days later.

St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard Mr Duggan had been segregated from other prisoners after getting into a fight with a fellow inmate. Jurors also heard how the former prisoner had lacerations on his body which suggested self-harm.

But he had not been identified as a suicide risk – meaning his belt and the plastic bag had not been removed – because prisoners “regularly” lacerate themselves.

Despite “little evidence” that he had mental health problems when initially seen, Mr Duggan’s state of mind had deteriorated.

He had become difficult to handle for guards and smeared himself in his cell with a brown substance which was either faeces or food, the court heard.

On Monday last week, the court heard how he claimed in a phone call with his father that prison officers were bullying him and fuelling rumours he was a child rapist.

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“He was saying he wanted to show he wasn’t a nonce,” his father had told the court via a statement read out.

Mr Duggan told his father he thought he was going to be raped after claiming to overhear a conversation between an officer and inmates.

However, psychiatrist Dr Elizabeth Colby, who had assessed Mr Duggan, later last week said it is possible the voices were in his head and that officers said or did no such thing.

Mary O’Donnell, former manager of the inpatient unit at Pentonville for Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, told the inquest:


“He had lacerations. People in prison will regularly lacerate themselves. It happens when people feel vulnerable in prison.

“If you know someone has lacerated, that would trigger an ACCT (health profile), but wouldn’t necessarily increase the observations beyond what we do.”

Mr Duggan was being monitored every 30 minutes in a bid to “strike a balance” between “engaging” and “leaving space”.

The 27-year-old, who used to live in Wharf Road, Islington, was a former painter and decorator. He was pronounced dead at the Whittington on August 6, 2010, after being found in his cell two days earlier.

He had been on remand for a month awaiting trial over an alleged assault at the Exmouth Arms pub in Finsbury. Police confirmed he had no convictions for sexual crime.

The hearing continues.