Saturday, June 18, 2005

Court focuses on cell check procedure

Clive Nuñez inquest - by Brian Reyes

Two senior Royal Gibraltar Police officers yesterday gave evidence on procedures for the care and custody of prisoners detained in cells at New Mole House station, as the Clive Nuñez inquest entered its fourth day.

Mr Nuñez hanged himself in a police cell at around 4.15am on October 14, 2001. His body was found about five hours later.

Officers who were on duty that night and in the early morning had already told the court that they had carried out checks on Mr Nuñez using CCTV monitors. None of those checks had alerted them to the fact that he was dead. They also told the court that it was accepted practice at the time to replace physical checks on prisoners with CCTV checks, particularly during busy shifts such as the one that night.

But the Coroner’s Court heard yesterday that well-established procedures at the time made clear that CCTV cameras were no substitute for physical checks. Prisoners had to be visited in person at least once an hour, the court heard, and in the case of prisoners under the influence of alcohol – Mr Nuñez had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly – those checks were to be carried out every half an hour. As part of those checks, drunk prisoners were to be roused in order to ensure they were well both physically and mentally.

The court had already heard that Mr Nuñez had only been visited once during the night on which he died, and he was not roused. Although CCTV checks of his cell were carried out a number of times, no one noticed what had happened.

The job of checking prisoners was at the time the responsibility of the station sergeant and the jailer, posts that in 2001 were not dedicated roles with specific training. In practice, both jobs entailed many other duties aside from monitoring prisoners. While the station sergeant ultimately had overall responsibility for prisoner welfare, it was the jailer who would have normally carried out the regular checks.

Henry McIntosh, the jailer on the night shift at the time of the death, had repeatedly stressed that he had not received specific training for the job during earlier evidence to the inquest. But asked about this yesterday, Chief Inspector David Smith, who was in charge of training at the time, insisted that the jailers on October 14 – Mr McIntosh and Duncan James, who relieved him in the morning - were both experienced and well-prepared officers.

“In effect, all police officers from 2001 backwards had the required training and knowledge to perform the duties of a jailer,” he said. He later added:

“They were both two of the most experienced officers in that field in the RGP at the time.”

Asked if it was possible that they had been unaware about the 30-minute check requirement, he answered:

“It is inconceivable for me to assume that they were not aware of this.”

The same question was later put to Superintendent Louis Wink, who replied:

“I can safely say that both officers knew their responsibilities to prisoners.”

Chief Inspector Smith was also asked if it was acceptable at the time of Mr Nuñez’s death for personal visits to prisoners to be substituted with CCTV checks, as some officers had told the court in earlier evidence. “That’s totally wrong,” Chief Inspector Smith said. “It is against procedure and policy.”

The court also heard yesterday how the RGP’s entire system of care and custody of prisoners has changed since the death of Mr Nuñez. New posts have been created – that of custody sergeant and custody officer – whose duties are solely to look after prisoner welfare. Officers receive special training for the job. Procedures now explicitly stress that prisoners are to be checked physically. The timeframe for checks on drunk or vulnerable prisoners has been reduced from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, including rousing.

The inquest continues on Monday.

Related Article:

17 June 2005 - Repeated CCTV checks, man was dead all along

16 June 2005 - Drama of final moments unfolds

15 June 2005 - Inquest shown cell death video footage

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