A prisoner found hanged in his cell at a North East jail had been bullied and threatened by other inmates in the months before he died, an investigation has found.
A report into his death by the Prison & Probation Ombudsman (PPO) said that the day before he was found, Mr Stephenson had split up with his partner and told an officer he was worried she was being pressured to bring drugs into the prison to clear his debts.
The investigation found that the prison “did not respond effectively to bullying and threats made against Mr Stephenson, which left him feeling increasingly vulnerable”.
The report also said that the day before he died, prison staff had considered whether Mr Stephenson should be monitored as at risk of suicide, but decided that this was not necessary.
However, the ombudsman found, “We cannot know whether monitoring would have prevented Mr Stephenson’s death.”
Mr Stephenson, 24, was remanded to HMP Durham in June 2015 charged with assaulting his partner.
On August 7 that year, he was sentenced to three years and two months in prison.
The report said that in August, Mr Stephenson was moved to HMP Holme House, where he was allegedly assaulted at knifepoint by prisoners searching for a mobile phone they believed he had concealed internally.
He was “distressed and frightened” after the incident, and was moved to HMP Northumberland later that month.
The ombudsman found that in September, Mr Stephenson was monitored for two periods – the first for two weeks after he cut his ear lobe following an argument with his partner; and the second for one day, after an officer found a noose in his cell.
The report said: “Between September and December, Mr Stephenson and his partner reported a number of incidents of being bullied and intimidated by other prisoners at Northumberland, including Mr Stephenson being assaulted and his partner threatened.”
It found that on January 7 2016, Mr Stephenson and his partner ended their relationship.
The report said: “Three members of staff spoke to Mr Stephenson, who said he was angry that his partner might smuggle drugs into the prison for another prisoner.
“The staff accepted Mr Stephenson’s assurances that he had no thoughts of suicide or self-harm and did not begin ACCT [suicide and self-harm] monitoring.
“On the evening of 7 January, the other prisoner told the night patrol officer that he was worried about Mr Stephenson, who had received bad news that day.
“The officer checked Mr Stephenson by observing him through the door but did not speak to him.”
At around 6.30am the next day, the night patrol officer found the observation panel in Mr Stephenson’s cell door covered.
Two officers were sent to go into the cell, and found Mr Stephenson hanged inside.
The report said: “Mr Stephenson had left three notes in his cell, indicating his intention to kill himself because he could not live in the same place where his partner intended to visit another man.
“In one of the notes, Mr Stephenson said that his personal officer had been very good to him and should not be blamed for not starting ACCT procedures, as he had told him he was fine.”
The ombudsman raised concerns that the prison “did not do enough” to investigate reports of bullying or challenge the alleged perpetrators.
The report said: “There is a lot of information that throughout his time at Northumberland, other prisoners bullied, intimidated and threatened Mr Stephenson and his partner.
“The threats appear to have been because other prisoners wanted Mr Stephenson’s partner to bring drugs into the prison and because Mr Stephenson got into debt over problems with a mobile phone.
“An officer said that other prisoners abused him because he was a ‘weak character’.
“We are concerned that the violence reduction team and other staff responsible for managing Mr Stephenson do not seem to have recognised or considered that the assaults, bullying and intimidation Mr Stephenson experienced might have increased his risk of suicide and self-harm.”
It added: “The prison’s response to Mr Stephenson and his partner reporting that he was under threat from other prisoners was always to move him to another part of the prison.
“This was an inadequate response and did not address the underlying reasons for the bullying.”
The ombudsman said that monitoring Mr Stephenson on January 7 may not have prevented his death as “there was little to indicate that Mr Stephenson was at high and imminent risk of suicide”.
But, they added, “We consider that when a prisoner told the night patrol officer that he was concerned about Mr Stephenson, the officer should have spoken to Mr Stephenson to assess the situation, rather than just observing him through the cell door.”
An HMP Northumberland spokesperson said: “Any death in our custody is always regrettable and our thoughts remain with Mr Stephenson’s family . We cooperated fully with the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s review in 2016, accepted the recommendations made and implemented an action plan which we have since completed.”
Prisoner found dead in cell had been 'bullied' by other inmates