Criminal justice campaigners have claimed "overcrowded, understaffed" conditions at Wandsworth Prison are leading to deaths in custody - some of whom are innocent men waiting for a trial.

Your Local Guardian:

Men found dead in the category B prison over the past 18 months include:

- New Malden man Raymond Mills, 66, a psychiatric patient accused of murdering his wife, was found hanged in his cell in June.

- Robert Richards, 22, who had been found guilty of rape and attempting to murder a Chessington pensioner, was found hanged in his cell in June last year.

- Mathan Vadivelalagan, 20, accused of raping a woman in Mitcham, was found hanged in the 'first night centre' in May last year.

- Wadid Barsoum, 66, was allegedly murdered by fellow inmate Taras Nykolyn in May. Nykolyn is due to appear at the Old Bailey today. 

Nearly half of the 13 deaths at Wandsworth since January 2014 have been from suspected suicide.

A further four deaths were believed to be from natural causes, one homicide and two are under investigation.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "Men are dying in overcrowded, understaffed local prisons like Wandsworth and it is a mounting crisis.

"Staff cuts and an increased number of prisoners mean that staff don’t have time to get to know people and prisoners don’t have time to get to know staff.

"There are only a handful of support staff on duty at night doing patrols. Men are locked in their cells for most of the time.

"This is a sad existence. A suicide in prison is a lonely and desperate act which should never happen."

Wandsworth Prison is the UK's largest prison and can hold more than 1,800 inmates. In June this year it was home to 1,593 prisoners – down from 1,623 in June 2014.

Earlier this month, coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox halted an inquest into the deaths of inmates Robert Richards and Ian Pearson over concerns about the alarming number of deaths at the prison.

She called for a formal investigation at the prison and said she may visit it herself after 10 men died in custody there last year - three times more than she said would be expected at a prison.

July 10: Suicide inquest of rapist who tried to murder pensioner halted as coroner calls for probe into 10 other prison deaths

Pearson, convicted of buggery and child abduction, hanged himself about five months before Richards. They had shared the same cell.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Any death in prison is a tragedy and reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths is a priority.

"All deaths in custody are fully investigated by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and we accept the vast majority of their recommendations.

"Prisoners are segregated for their own safety and the safety of others and the use of segregation is carefully managed.

"We have recruited over 1,700 new officers between January 2014 and April 2015 and are planning to recruit a similar number this year to address any outstanding vacancies and turnover."


As a court reporter, it is not unusual to arrive at a hearing where a defendant, lawyers and a judge are present, only to find the hearing has been delayed because psychiatric reports were not ready.

At least three scheduled hearings for Raymond Mills, who was known to have been psychiatric patient at St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, were put back before he was found hanged in his cell.

He had been in custody for nearly four months before having the chance to plea.

Psychiatric reports can be requested by the courts to help judges assess whether the accused is fit to plea, would benefit from a mental health treatment order, or in more serious circumstances, be sectioned in a secure mental health facility under the Mental Health Act.

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of Centre for Mental Health, said delays in carrying out psychiatric assessments can happen when courts don’t have access to consultant psychiatrists and have to bring someone in on a freelance basis to make an assessment.

He said this can cause further problems because a freelance psychiatrist who isn’t connected to a local mental health service won’t be able to suggest treatment.

But he said in some parts of London, there is a liaison and diversion scheme which employs mental health professionals to identify offenders with mental health problems and liaise with local health services to suggest appropriate treatment.

The scheme is due to be rolled out across the country by 2017.

Mr Bell said: "It won't solve every problem but it should reduce the number of cases where you are waiting for a court report causing a huge amount of stress for everyone.

"But this is all contingent on having local mental health services which we know have been cut year on year."


Your Local Guardian:

- Raymond Mills, 66, accused of murder (found hanged, June 2015) 

- Milanas Senkevicius, 23, accused of offence in Lithuania where he was due to be extradited (found hanged, May 2015)

- Wadid Barsoum, 66, (apparent homincide, May 2015)

- Michael Nolan, 63, acccused of possessing indecent image of a child (diabetes-related illness, December 2014)

- Dennis Potter, 70, sentenced for indecent assault, (long-term illness, February 2014)

Your Local Guardian:

- Robert Richards, 22, guilty of rape and attempted murder, (found hanged, July 2014)

- Daren McLaughlin, 41, sentenced for possessing controlled drugs with intent to supply (found dead in cell, July 2014)

Your Local Guardian:

- Mathan Vadivelalagan, 20, accused of rape, (found hanged on his first night in custody, June 2014)

- Ian Pearson, 51, sentenced for buggery/child abduction, (found hanged in his cell, March 2014)

- Colin Brown, 85, accused of indecent assault on a child, (heart attack, May 2014)

- Hugh O'Donnell, 67, sentenced for depositing controlled waste without a permit (terminal illness, November 2014)

- Mohammed Salhi, 22, sentenced for burglary, (died in his cell of causes unknown at this stage, October 2014)

- Sarbjit Singh, 36, sentenced for possession with intent to supply, (found hanged, September 2014)