Teenager arrested for stealing sweets takes life in segregation unit at Wandsworth

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Teenager arrested for stealing sweets takes life in segregation unit at Wandsworth

A view of D wing at HMP Wandsworth Prison. Pic: Andy Aitchison

Teenager arrested for stealing sweets takes life in segregation unit at Wandsworth

A Lithuanian teenager arrested for stealing sweets took his own life in the segregation unit of HMP Wandsworth after prison staff took almost 40 minutes to come to his cell. The prison and probation ombudsman concluded that he might be alive today if staff responded promptly.

Osvaldas Pagirys was just 18 years old, struggled with English and was described by one nurse as ‘child-like’. He had been repeatedly assessed by prison staff as not having significant mental health problems after being interviewed without an interpreter. On the one occasion when he was interviewed with a professional interpreter, a GP concluded that he did need mental health treatment.

On the day of his death, Pagirys rang a bell in his cell in the segregation unit at lunchtime however it was not answered for 37 minutes when he was discovered unconscious and hanging. According to the prison and probation ombudsman, Pagirys never regained consciousness and died three days later. Wandsworth had previously been criticised by prisons inspectors for long delays in answering bells. ‘Mr Pagirys’s life might well have been saved had staff responded sooner,’ the ombudsman said (here).

Pagirys had been arrested in August 2016 in London for shoplifting sweets and was found to be the subject of an European Arrest Warrant in Lithuania. Extradition proceedings started and, refused bail, he was sent to Pentonville and, for his last three months of his life, Wandsworth.

He had been found with a ligature around his neck on five previous occasions including on the same day he was declared fit for segregation. This followed what the ombudsman said was a ‘woefully inadequate assessment’ by a nurse. The prison manager who authorised segregation claimed not to have known the young man had been seen in the unit with a noose around his neck.

An inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death following an inquest into the death on 14 November 2016. ‘The circumstances of Mr Pagirys’s death were appalling and tragic,’ commented Elizabeth Moody, the ombudsman. ‘He was a vulnerable, 18-year-old, Lithuanian man who found it hard to cope with prison life and to communicate in English. Staff responded to his increasing levels of distress punitively and he was subject to an impoverished, basic regime during much of his time at Wandsworth.’

‘Staff did not satisfactorily acknowledge his vulnerability or address his rising risk factors. Neither the management of his suicide risk, nor action to address his deteriorating mental health, were adequate. It is emblematic of the poor care Mr Pagirys received at Wandsworth, that it took staff 37 minutes to respond to his cell bell prior to discovering him hanging in his cell.’
Elizabeth Moody

Police had considered him a high risk of suicide and placed him under constant supervision. In Wandsworth, the ombudsman found a pattern of ‘unpredictable, emotional and distressed behaviour – with Mr Pagirys varying between saying he did not want to live and, on other occasions, that he did not want to harm himself’. ‘At one time, he was ‘jovial’; on other occasions, he cried. He cut himself with a broken piece of porcelain and also damaged his cell a number of times and was aggressive,’ the ombudsman said.