'It was inhumane': Daughter slams HMP Styal which 'neglected' mum and left her to suffer

Anna Youssef reports from the inquest at Cheshire Coroner's Court

A daughter has slammed a prison which 'neglected' her mum and left her to suffer 'inhumanly' before she took her own life just two days into a jail sentence.

Christine McDonald, 55, was discovered by prison officers in her cell at HMP Styal in Wilmslow with self-inflicted injuries on 2 March 2019.

The mum-of-four, who struggled with addiction, was just days into a 12-week sentence for shoplifting.

Her mental health has deteriorated after she had witnessed her daughter fall from the roof of a building just hours before she was jailed.

Christine, her inquest was told, repeatedly asked prison staff for an update on her daughter's condition, but got no answer.

Her situation was compounded by serious drug withdrawals, but she was not given methadone treatment to help, the inquest in Warrington also heard.

After an inquest jury found her death had been contributed to by neglect, Christine's youngest daughter Cheri criticised HMP Styal.

Cheri McDonald said: "It was horrific how she was treated, how she was neglected, how she as calling out for help and nobody came.

"She was left to suffer, it was inhumane, all of it was inhumane."

  • Cheri McDonald speaks about her mother's treatment at HMP Styal, which she says was "inhumane".

The charity Inquest claims Christine was the 11th prisoner to die of self-inflicted wounds since 2007.

It also says the prison has had more inmate deaths than any other in England and Wales.

Christine was described as 'kind and loving' and as someone 'who always put others before herself.' Credit: Family handout

Following the two week-long inquest, a jury returned a conclusion of suicide contributed to by neglect - defined as a gross failure in basic care and attention.

Many of the jurors were in tears as the foreperson read out their findings at Cheshire Coroner's Court.

They found there were failings in communication and information sharing between health care staff and prison staff which contributed "more than minimally" to Christine’s death.

The failure to pass on the message about her daughter also contributed, they said.

"My mum died because she was neglected," Cheri said. "She was backed into a corner, suffering and not given ay support or any acknowledgment of that suffering.

"When people are pushed so far the options become limited and she must have felt that was her only option."

The charity Inquest claims Christine was the 11th prisoner to die of self-inflicted wounds since 2007. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Christine was charged with two counts of shoplifting in 2019, and after failing to attend court on 27 February was arrested alongside her daughter Kirsty.

During the arrest on 1 March 2019, her daughter Kristy fell from the roof of a third floor building suffering serious injuries.

Despite the incident, Christine was not allowed to stay with her daughter, and instead she was taken directly to Blackpool Magistrates Court where she was jailed for 12 weeks for shoplifting and failing to appear at court.

She had stolen a block of cheese, a bottle of shampoo, hair dye and some bubble bath.

The mum was then transferred to HMP Styal - not knowing if her daughter was alive or dead, and unable to contact other family members.

Her behaviour was described as anxious, suffering from opiate withdrawal symptoms and being concerned for her daughter, the inquest was told.

The court heard how Cheri McDonald - Christine’s youngest daughter - had called the prison asking them to reassure Christine Kristy was alive and in hospital.

She said: “I told them my mum would be freaking out and that it was vital they get this message to her”

That message was never passed on.

Credit: Family picture

The inquest jury was told Christine was unable to give a urine sample - likely because she was dehydrated - which meant medics were unable to see if there were drugs in her system.

In turn this mean she was not given methadone, leaving her suffering from agonising withdrawal symptoms.

She also had low mood and continued to ask about her daughter, the inquest heard.

Christie was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital on 2 March following concerns raised during a healthcare assessment in the prison.

Later that day, she was returned to HMP Styal, where officers found her in her cell just a few hours later.

Although staff were able to find a pulse and she was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital, she later died.

Cheri said: “I am a nurse in the NHS and appreciate the immense workload across all public sector services, however I have serious concerns about the level of care my mum received."This is both as a patient when physically unwell withdrawing and the steps the prison took to look after her given the massive stressing event of watching her daughter, my sister, sustain serious injuries."

The jury listed a number of failings which they believe were all factors leading to Christine taking her own life:

  • Health care staff and prison staff failed to communicate and share information.

  • Prison staff did not pass on the crucial message about her daughter’s welfare.

  • They did not follow the guidelines to treat her addiction or allow her to see a nurse when she requested one.

Following the conclusion, the coroner said she would be writing a report to the Governor of HMP Styal, as well as the Ministry of Justice as she is concerned the emergency response codes at the prison are still not well understood, which could lead to delays in medical treatment and further deaths.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: "Our thoughts remain with the friends and family of Christine McDonald.

“We are investing £14m to improve safety in women’s prisons and strengthening the support provided to those at risk of self-harm and suicide.

"We will consider the coroner's findings carefully and respond in due course.”

Spectrum Community Health CIC - the health care provider at the prison said it "fully accepts the findings" in the report and are working with the prison to "enhance the care and support women receive".

A Spectrum spokesperson added: “We extend our deepest condolences to Ms McDonald’s family and those who knew her.

“Spectrum fully accept the findings detailed in the Prison and Probation Ombudsman report and all recommendations outlined have been fully engaged with and implemented.

“We are committed to ensuring that lessons are learnt and continue to work closely with our staff and partners at HMP Styal to further enhance the care and support women receive when entering and whilst in the prison environment.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...