Lewes: Inquest Into Prisoner Found Hanged In Cell

3 June 2014, 18:10

A former detective jailed for murdering his partner in front of their two young children committed suicide in his prison cell, a jury has concluded.

Peter Foster was found hanging at Lewes Prison in the early hours of July 30 2012, while he was on the acute healthcare ward, the inquest was told.

He had been jailed for life a month earlier and told he must serve a minimum of 17 years for hitting Detective Constable Heather Cooper, 33, over the head 10 times with a baseball bat and stabbing her in the throat at their home in Haslemere, Surrey, before dumping her body in a shallow grave in Blackdown Woods, near Lurgashall, West Sussex.

The inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall heard that Foster had made several attempts on his life since 2009, including two while he was on remand, and that his death was "inevitable''.

Up until five days before his death he had been on the highest level of observation, in a cell with a perspex door, because he was deemed a high suicide risk, the jury was told.

But just days after he was moved to another cell where his observations were relaxed to every hour, he was found dead, the inquest heard.

The inquest heard his death came 48 hours after another inmate at the prison killed himself.

Although prison staff said he did not appear to be affected by it, a statement from a prisoner Ivan Esack, a former detective who was jailed for life for stabbing his wife to death, said the man's death had caused Foster "great upset''.

Foster's friend Jonathon Carver said Foster, 36, had had a difficult upbringing and had been deeply affected by the murder of his father in 2009.

He told the inquest his friend was prone to bouts of depression which became worse when he drank alcohol to excess, and that after losing his job as a police officer for committing a drink driving offence, he tried to take his own life and was found close to death and slumped across his father's grave.

Mr Carver told the inquest that he expected his friend to die and that it "was a matter of when, not if''.

He said Foster was "full of remorse'' for what had happened and he believed his friend had made his mind up about dying before he was sentenced.

He said: "We think that Peter's death was inevitable and that they (the prison staff) could not have stopped it.

"We believe the prison did what they could for him.''

During the hearing, Foster was described as a pleasant and calm man who was interesting, vulnerable and bright.

But three to four months before his death, prison staff noticed he had started to detach himself.

Steve Kelly, a nurse at the prison, said: "He told me that he realised he was switching off but we thought it was because he was dis-engaging with staff and life at the prison because he knew he would be going to a lifers' prison.

"With the benefit of hindsight you could say he was dis-engaging because he was going to commit suicide.

"But at that time we thought it was healthy because he was going to move on.''

The inquest heard that Foster was the subject of an Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (Acct) document but was reluctant to attend meetings about how his care could be managed.

Custodial manager Michael Brown said he had "no doubt'' in his mind that Foster would take his own life and that the Acct was more about how they were going to reduce the risks and the management of those risks throughout his time in custody so he had a better quality of life.

But other staff at the prison, including nurses and a probation service officer, said he appeared more positive and was looking to where he would be going next.

Amanda Parry, a Probation Service officer at Lewes Prison, said Foster had asked her about moving to a lifers' unit and he was encouraged to consult the prisoners' handbook and make a list of four or five to see whether they would take him.

Gavin Davis, a senior officer who interviewed Foster on July 28, following the other inmate's death, said he seemed very relaxed and focused on the future, while Helen Stevens, a community psychiatric nurse, said he was "giving positive vibes'' and that she thought "he wanted us to believe he was moving on''.

She told the inquest he had genuinely appeared to be relaxed, laughing and chatty with other prisoners the day before his death but she said that may have been because he had already made up his mind to kill himself.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "We are committed to reducing the numbers of self-inflicted deaths in custody and will consider the findings of the inquest to see what lessons can be learned, in addition to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman's investigation.''