A 21-year-old woman was found dead in prison while serving a sentence for arson after setting herself on fire, an inquest jury has heard.
Emily Hartley died in the grounds of HMP New Hall near Wakefield on 23 April 2016. She had been allowed into the exercise yard of the women’s prison at about 3pm and was found hanged.
Wakefield coroner’s court heard on Monday that Hartley had been remanded in custody in May 2015 after setting fire to herself, her bed and curtains in the multiple occupancy building in which she was living.
After her arrest, a court decided to send Hartley to a bail hostel, rather than transfer her to a secure hospital. After breaking her bail conditions, she was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for arson and sent to New Hall in November 2015.
Deborah Coles, the executive director of the charity Inquest, said before the hearing: “Emily was the youngest of 12 women to take her own life in prison in 2016.
“Just like the many women who died before her, she should never have been in prison in the first place. This inquest must scrutinise her death and how such a vulnerable young woman was able to die while in the care of the state.”
Hartley was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, a diagnosis that was later dropped in favour of one of emotionally unstable personality disorder. She had been addicted to drugs was repeatedly admitted to mental health units, and made previous suicide attempts, the inquest heard.
Giving evidence to the court, Hartley’s mother, Diane Coulson, said her daughter had complained that despite being monitored under suicide and self-harm management processes, which meant she had to be observed twice an hour, nobody was checking on her for hours at a time.
In the weeks before her death, Hartley told her mother she was feeling the lowest she had ever felt.
In a statement, Coulson described her daughter as a “proper little madam, really gorgeous and lovely”. She was said to be a talented actor and musician.
“Emily wanted to have children and a normal life and she wanted someone to love her unconditionally,” Coulson said.
In a letter given to a psychiatrist a week before she died, which was shown to the jury, Hartley said: “I don’t want to die, I want to permanently end my problems.”
She said she wished every day that she had succeeded in killing herself. Coulson said it had been a relief when Hartley was sent to prison because “at least she would be safe”.
During the hearing, the senior coroner for West Yorkshire, David Hinchliff, asked Anthony Fitzhenry, a clinical matron involved in Hartley’s care in prison, whether or not he agreed that it was “not the best therapeutic environment” for people with mental health problems.
“It would depend on the quality of the alternative,” he said. Fitzhenry agreed with the coroner’s suggestion that there were insufficient secure alternatives for people in Hartley’s position.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.