PTSD claims following violent escape fail

Wormwood Scrubs Prison

Wormwoord Scrubs Prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prison officers who suffered PTSD after being exposed to a violent escape have lost their claim for damages.

A violent offender was at HMP Wormwood Scrubs where internal risk assessments recognised he posed a high risk to the public, a high risk of hostage taking and there was a high risk of J’s escape with assistance. The prison also had information he had plans to feign illness in order to be taken to hospital to obtain drugs.

The prisoner indeed feigned illness and persuaded a prison doctor to refer him to hospital. He was taken chained to a gurney and handcuffed to one of three prison officers.

On his arrival, 2 masked confederates opened the ambulance doors, one armed with a handgun and the other brandishing a pair of bolt croppers. The handgun was held to the centre of the forehead of an officer causing him to fear he would be shot while another officer was threatened to have his hand cut off if the prisoner was not released.

The officers released the prisoner in accordance with their training but suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident and brought claims asserting negligence in the handling of the prisoner. In particular, he had been wrongly categorised, should have been transferred to a different (a training) prison, should have been on the escape list and should not have been sent to the hospital.

Experts agreed the prisoner should have been differently categorise but the Judge found this would have made no difference. The transfer to a training prison was the prisoner’s right and not a duty owed to the officers. The listing would have given the Doctor more warning of the risk of an escape attempt but it was found that even so, the decision to send to hospital was not negligent as it was not one which no reasonably competent prison doctor in his circumstances would have taken.

Burn & others v Ministry of Justice [2012] EWHC 876 (QB)


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