Robber's jail cell suicide

A HENFIELD robber hanged himself in his prison cell while he awaited trial for manslaughter, an inquest heard on Friday August 15.

And the coroner in the controversial case is writing to the chief of the prison service to highlight what happened.

Charles David Wolfe used tightly twisted bed sheets tied to a window frame to end his own life at Lewes Prison healthcare centre on February 24 2002.

He was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital but died the following day from brain damage caused by cardiac arrest.

Wolfe, a schizophrenic, was in custody facing charges of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm after he admitted trying to rob Billingshurst sub-post office.

During the incident in October 2001 he allegedly knocked Margaret Hopkins, 68, to the ground. She died eight days later from a pulmonary embolism after collapsing in her Billingshurst home.

A post mortem found she had suffered six broken ribs and a blood clot had travelled from her leg to her lungs.

Graham Harper, 60, from Adversane was also injured in the robbery when he tackled Wolfe and pulled a stocking from his head. He sustained a large knife wound.

The inquest at Lewes Courts heard how Wolfe, who was 28 and lived in Bishop Lane, had suicidal tendencies and was prone to aggressive outbursts.

At 11am on the day he was found hanging in his cell, Wolfe said that he needed to ring his girlfriend about visiting time.

A transcript of the phone conversation between the two was read out to the coroner's court.

It said how Wolfe's girlfriend, Matilda Carrigan, had failed to wake up in time and was in tears on the phone to him as she tried to explain that she would not be turning up.

After hearing the news, Wolfe became very angry. He slammed the phone down and as he passed the prison office he punched the Perspex window.

Staff tried to calm him down and asked him to return to his cell, which he refused to do.

Instead he asked to go to the association room, where he spent about five minutes smoking and talking to other inmates.

A nurse on duty in the healthcare wing, Dawn Summers, told East Sussex coroner Alan Craze about the incident.

She said: "He settled down in there and after a while he rang the bell and asked if he could go back to his cell and we said 'yes'." She explained that the prison officers locked the door when Wolfe was in his cell.

"We were just a bit concerned because he was a little bit hostile with us when we were walking back with him.

"We were just deciding whether it was best to let him collect his lunch or to bring it to him in his cell. That's when someone went to his cell and found him.

"I ran straight to the cell and I could see Charles hanging from the window frame. They supported the body while I ran downstairs and got some scissors to cut through the ligature."

After cutting the bed sheets away, the staff tried to resuscitate Wolfe while they waited for the paramedics to arrive.

The following day, after Wolfe had suffered severe brain damage as a direct result of his hanging, his family decided to switch off his life support machine.

A pathology report carried out on Wolfe's body showed a trace of morphine in his blood, thought to have originated from heroin use while in the prison.

Wolfe had a history of addiction and, the inquest heard, was on a cocktail of medication for his condition. However, heroin was not considered to have contributed to his death.

The jury of eight returned a unanimous verdict of suicide and Mr Craze said that as a result of the case he would be writing to the director general of the prison service to bring all the facts of the inquest to his attention.

He extended his sympathy to Wolfe's family and said that he hoped the law regarding deaths in custody would be clarified as a result of his letter.