An inquest will look at the circumstances of the death of a baby who died in a Surrey women’s prison.
Aisha Cleary was born on the 26 September 2019 after her mother went into labour during the night. She was found the following morning having died after her mother, an 18 year old care leaver, gave birth alone in her cell. The inquest will examine whether failures by prison staff led to the baby’s death.
Aisha’s mother used the intercom in her cell twice in the evening before giving birth. Prison officers checked her cell at 9:27pm and 4:19am for a roll count and nothing out of the ordinary was reported. At 8:15am her cell was unlocked, but it was not until several minutes after this that prison staff noticed blood on the floor and walls of the cell, and that she had given birth. Attempts were made by nurses to resuscitate the baby but these failed, and Aisha was pronounced dead by paramedics.
The inquest will examine the response of prison staff, including in relation to ignored call bells, the clinical care offered while she was in prison, and information sharing between relevant agencies.
Speaking to The Justice Gap, a spokesperson from IQUEST who are supporting the young woman, said: ‘Nothing can be more shocking than the death of a baby in a prison cell. The death of Aisha Cleary reiterates what INQUEST has long been highlighting: prison is a disproportionate, inappropriate and dangerous response to women in conflict with the law, let alone those who are pregnant.
We hope this inquest will reinforce this message and spur the Government into urgent action. The Government must work across health, social care and justice departments to dismantle failing women’s prisons and invest in specialist community led women’s services to prevent further deaths.’
Responding the announcement of an inquest, the Director of the charity Birth Companions said: ‘We will hear some deeply distressing witness testimony in the course of this inquest, which will add to the already considerable weight of evidence showing that prisons are, and will never be, safe environments for pregnant women… The government can, and must, end the imprisonment of pregnant women and mothers of infants. This is far from a radical position. In the vast majority of cases the imprisonment of pregnant and postnatal women is unnecessary and avoidable. It is a choice made by the legal system in this country.’
A report by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) into the death of Aisha Cleary was published in 2021. In it the head of the PPO, Sue McAllister, found maternity services at Bronzefield were ‘outdated and inadequate’. She also criticised the mother’s care in the weeks leading up to the birth, noting that ‘Ms A appeared to have been regarded as difficult and having a ‘bad attitude’ rather than as a vulnerable 18 year old, frightened that her baby would be taken away.’