Inmate who spent ten years in jail for a 24-month sentence took his own life in cell

Gary Sheehan was jailed in 2010 for robbery and was recommended to serve 24 months.

A man jailed under a controversial Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence ended up taking his own life in jail ten years later.

Gary Sheehan was handed the IPP sentence for robbery and was told he would have to serve at least 24 months but he was never released. He had his sentence increased in 2017 after absconding from an open prison carrying a knife.

After that he was moved to HMP Full Sutton near Pocklington in 2018. A year later he was due to be moved to an open prison following a Parole Board hearing but was sent to Hull Prison instead. He was found dead in his cell in June 2020, aged in his 50s, having taken his own life.

Sheehan was the subject of an IPP sentence which were introduced in April 2005. They were designed to protect the public from serious offenders whose crimes did not merit a life sentence.

Offenders sentenced to an IPP are set a minimum term (tariff) which they must spend in prison. After they have completed their tariff they can apply to the Parole Board for release. If offenders are given parole they will be on supervised licence for at least 10 years. If offenders are refused parole they can only apply again after one year.

But they were widely criticised after leaving offenders of relatively minor crimes rotting in prison for years. They were abolished in 2012 but not retrospectively which means those handed IPPs remain subjected to them.

Sheehan’s death has now been investigated by the Prison Ombudsman Sue McAllister who published her report this week.

In March 2019, staff moved Mr Sheehan to the vulnerable prisoners (VP) wing after he said he was being threatened by other prisoners.

On March 20, 2020, the Parole Board recommended that Sheehan should be moved to a Category D open prison to prepare him for release. On the same day, Mr Sheehan told staff that he felt under threat on the VP wing and he began to self-isolate in his cell.

Although staff found no evidence he was under threat, they agreed that he should be encouraged to take his prescribed medication for anxiety and depression and that a longer term plan to manage his concerns at Full Sutton was needed.

On June 8, Sheehan was moved to Hull Prison and reception staff noted no current concerns about suicide or self-harm and assessed him as suitable to have his prescribed medication in his own possession.

On June 18, staff moved Sheehan to the VP wing after he said he was under threat from other prisoners. Two days later, he cut his wrists after alleging he remained under threat from other prisoners on the VP wing. Staff started suicide and self-harm procedures (known as ACCT).

On June 21 at around 3.50pm, during an ACCT check, staff found Sheehan hanging in his cell. Staff called a medical emergency code and started CPR. Healthcare staff attended shortly afterwards and continued with CPR. Paramedics arrived and took over resuscitation attempts, but they were unsuccessful and they pronounced Sheehan’s death at 4.45pm.

But Prison Ombudsman Ms McAllister found few areas of concern at either Full Sutton or Hull but did make some recommendations, particularly regarding the healthcare staff.

In the report she said: “We found that, on balance, staff at Full Sutton and Hull investigated Mr Sheehan’s allegations that he was being threatened by other prisoners and supported him as far as they could with the information available to them. We also found that staff at Hull managed the ACCT procedures appropriately.

“We found no evidence that staff at Full Sutton told Mr Sheehan why he was moving to Hull rather than to open conditions as recommended by the Parole Board. However, we consider that the move to Hull was reasonable as a short-term measure and was probably not a significant factor in Mr Sheehan’s death.

“However, we consider that healthcare staff at Full Sutton and Hull did not do enough to monitor and encourage Mr Sheehan’s compliance with his antidepressant medication.”

The Prison Ombudsman recommended that:

• The Governor at Full Sutton should ensure that, where a decision is made not to implement a Parole Board recommendation, this decision is clearly communicated to the prisoner and appropriately recorded.

• The Heads of Healthcare at Full Sutton and Hull should ensure that staff monitor prisoners’ compliance with medication, particularly mental health medication, by those self-isolating.