THE father of a graffiti artist found hanged in jail has hit out at the “incompetence” of the prison system.
An inquest into the death of 23-year-old Tom Collister, from Penge, has revealed multiple failures in the care provided.
Tom was found dead in his prison cell at HMP Camp Hill in Newport on the Isle of Wight on the morning of February 7 last year.
He had been serving a 30-month sentence for conspiracy to commit criminal damage, which had been slashed by 10 months four days earlier following an appeal hearing.
Tom, who lived with his mother in Stembridge Road, was in a gang of graffiti artists which carried out a two-year campaign of vandalism on trains and stations around south London.
During his sentence – the longest in the country ever given for graffiti offences – he was transferred to Camp Hill while his co-defendants remained in Wandsworth.
However he expected to return to Wandsworth to see out his sentence following his appearance at the Court of Appeal in London.
But Tom was left distraught when he was told by prison escort staff that he would be going back to Camp Hill instead.
He was found dead in his cell four days later.
His parents Debbie and Martin told News Shopper after Tom died that he never intended to kill himself and that his death was a cry for help to get him sent back to Wandsworth.
Last week a jury at the Isle of Wight Coroner’s Court returned a critical verdict.
Jurors heard phone calls made by Tom to his girlfriend and mother describing the prison as “Concentration Camp Hill”.
The jury concluded that the night patrol system on the night of Tom’s death did not provide adequate supervision to ensure prisoner safety on the wing.
They also found that the response of the prison officer who discovered Tom’s body was inadequate.
The inquest heard officers had not been given adequate training on how to react in an emergency to suspected suicide or self-harm and they had received inadequate first aid and resuscitation training.
Jurors were also told how key officers involved on the night Tom died had not read the relevant policies nor had they been taught how to respond to an emergency situation.
PLAN WHICH TURNED TO TRAGEDY
Speaking after the verdict, Tom’s father Martin said Tom had been let down by “a catalogue of errors” which contributed to his death.
Mr Collister said: “The jury came to that conclusion on their own. They were physically shocked by the laxity and unbelievably cavalier way that place is run.
“It was absolutely disgusting, totally incompetent.
“The idea of night guards is to go round and check on the prisoners.
“Tom had a little plan where he thought that when (the guard) came round he would do a ‘near miss’ to get their attention and get himself off that hell hole of an island.
“He had a plan which turned into tragedy.”
Mr Collister also revealed Tom was told he wasn’t being sent back to Wandsworth after his appeal because it would be traumatising for him.
He also said while inside Tom had a belt which he shouldn’t have even been allowed to wear.
Mr Collister, a glazier who lives in West Wickham, said: “He should have been in prison clothes.
“It’s obscene the way they run that place.
“It’s too late for Tom but if they can make sure these people are doing their jobs properly then it might save someone else’s life.”
CALLS FOR A REVIEW
HM Assistant Deputy Coroner Hugh Calloway promised to report the lack of training and inadequate supervision within Camp Hill to the Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Service and the prison’s governor.
Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, a charity which specialises in contentious deaths and in particular those in custody, said: “The tragedy of this case was the decision to imprison Tom Collister in the first place.
“It is well recognised that prisoners’ vulnerability is exacerbated by the lack of family contact and support in prison.
“The procedures for transferring prisoners must be reviewed in light of this tragic death as well as the clear failings in officer training.”
As many as 600 people turned out for Tom’s funeral at Beckenham Crematorium.
As well as his mother and father, he also left behind his sister Jemma.