Osvaldas Pagirys was an 18 year old Lithuanian national who died in November 2016 after being found hanging in his cell in HMP Wandsworth’s segregation unit. He had pressed his emergency cell bell in a suspected ‘cry for help’, but prison staff failed to respond for 37 minutes. By the time Osvaldas was discovered, he had already suffered serious brain injury from which he never recovered. His family were represented in inquest proceedings by Andrew Frederick of GT Stewart Solicitors assisted by Harriet Bland.
On 20th February 2018, following a 10 day inquest, the jury returned a unanimous verdict, identifying numerous failures in the actions of the prison staff. Communication between prison and healthcare staff in the period leading up to Osvaldas’s death was held to have been inadequate, as was the decision to locate Osvaldas in the prison’s segregation unit. The jury found that the delay in responding to Osvaldas’s emergency cell bell was a failure which did contribute to his death.
Osvaldas was held on remand at HMP Wandsworth between August and November 2016 after being arrested for stealing sweets. He was held in the prison as he awaited extradition to Lithuania under a European Arrest Warrant for minor theft. This was his first time in prison custody and it is clear that he found the experience extremely distressing. As a vulnerable young prisoner who spoke very little English he struggled to cope. He repeatedly self-harmed and was found with a noose around his neck on five separate occasions prior to his death. Elizabeth Moody, the acting prisons and probation ombudsman, said: “The circumstances of Mr Pagirys’s death were appalling and tragic…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.”
On 11th November 2016 Osvaldas’s emergency cell bell began ringing at 1pm. Despite the Prison Service’s target response time of 5 minutes no member of prison staff attended Osvaldas’s cell until 1:37pm. When discovered, he was already unconscious. He died in St Georges’ Hospital, Tooting, on 14th November 2016.
For the Osvaldas’s family the inquest process has been painful. They are, however, relieved to have received in the jury’s verdict confirmation that the prison were at fault in their son’s death. “Nothing will stop us asking what would have happened if staff had answered his cell bell sooner when every moment counted. Would Osvaldas still be alive today?”
The family’s solicitor, Andrew Frederick, said:- “I’m very glad that the jury have recognised the serious failures by staff at HMP Wandsworth which contributed to Mr Pagirys’ death. The suicide rate at this prison is one of the highest in the country. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has repeatedly highlighted failings in monitoring those at risk of self-harm or suicide. The Ministry of Justice should order an urgent inquiry into conditions at the HMP Wandsworth which have led to tragic cases like that of Mr Pagirys.”
GT Stewart Solicitors will be assisting Mr Pagirys’ family in pursuing further action against the Ministry of Justice.