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Fatal Accident Inquiry Determines That Case Of Prisoner Who Died Of An Overdose Was Not An Accident

Williamson [2021] FAI 34

A fatal accident inquiry has determined that a prisoner who died of a drug overdose following sentencing did not die as a result of an accident that could have been prevented by prison authorities. 

Gavin Williamson died in HMP Perth in June 2018 after he took a fatal combination of buprenorphine and etizolam. He had been sentenced the day before to six months imprisonment following numerous breaches of a restriction of liberty order.

Mr Williamson had informed prison officers that he had taken Valium tablets earlier that morning. Following a risk assessment, it was determined by prison reception officers that there was no risk of suicide of self-harm. No illicit substances were found on Mr Williamson during an initial search and he appeared physically well. 

Mr Williamson was later found in a pool of vomit by his cellmate. Attempts by paramedics to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead 3 hours later. 

A search of his cell turned up numerous illicit substances, ranging from cannabis resin to Valium. 

At the FAI, the Crown submitted that there was no reason for prison officers to suspect that Mr Williamson was unwell, and there was no evidence to suggest he had access to a stash of drugs. Accordingly, the Crown submitted that there were no failures on the part of the prison authorities.

In giving the decision of the FAI, Sheriff Lewis said: “The prison service and the health service require to take reasonable precautions to prevent deaths in prison. On the evidence placed before me, the supervision and care of the deceased by the prison staff and medical staff cannot be criticised. I am satisfied that the Operating Procedures aimed at detecting and preventing the importation of illiacit drugs into the prison are reasonable and were followed in this case.”

In concluding, Sheriff Lewis said: “I do not consider that any additional findings in my determination are required in terms of section 26(1)(a) or any recommendations in terms of section 26(1)(b) and (4) of the 2016 Act. On the evidence available to me, there were no reasonable precautions that could have been taken that might realistically prevent other deaths in similar circumstances.”

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