Immigration detention staff 'thought suicidal man had toothache'

An immigration detainee killed himself two days after staff determined in a three-minute meeting that his distress was down to toothache, despite him telling them he wanted to die after being held for more than six months, a custody watchdog has said.

The 28-year-old foreign national was remanded in prison custody on charges of assault and criminal damage, but due to his offending history was transferred to an immigration removal centre (IRC) pending deportation.

He became increasingly distressed as it was unclear to him why he had been detained for so long, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) annual report said.

Staff placed him under suicide monitoring procedures, but the next day, a review concluded his distress was due to toothache and he was no longer a risk as a dental appointment was arranged.

Two days later, the detainee – referred to as Mr P – killed himself.

On Wednesday, the Guardian revealed more than half of 200 migrant detainees who responded to a snapshot survey were suicidal, seriously ill or victims of torture. Eight of the 188 people included in the analysis reported suicidal tendencies.

The PPO report said: “We found that Mr P’s risk of suicide was not properly assessed. There was a lack of information sharing between IRC staff and healthcare staff.

“Mr P was found to be under the influence of illicit substances on three occasions, but healthcare staff were not informed, and were not informed when Mr P was made subject to suicide and self-harm monitoring.

“Staff stopped monitoring prematurely and failed to consider restarting it when Mr P showed wigs of further distress.

“We also found that although uncertainty about his continued detention contributed significantly to Mr P’s distress, this was not considered in the assessment of his risk.”

In 2017-18, the PPO opened investigations into the deaths of five people in IRCs, of which three were suicides.

In addition, the watchdog launched inquiries into the deaths of four men who had killed themselves while being held in prisons under immigration powers. All four had completed their sentences, but were awaiting deportation.


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