“I thought we were turning a corner,” says officer monitoring transgender prisoner found hanged in her Woodhill cell

MPMC Woodhill Prison
MPMC Woodhill Prison

An inquest into the death of a transgender prisoner Joanne Latham has heard from a prison officer who monitored her before she was found hanged in her cell.

Read the first part of the inquest here.

Stephen Saunders, who has worked at HMP Woodhill for 17 years, said he came on to the night shift at 8.10pm in the Close Supervision Centre and was monitoring Latham throughout the night and early morning.

Mr Saunders said he spoke to the inmate many times throughout the evening, during which time Latham continued to make threats to staff and herself.

Latham refused treatment for a cut, which happened when she smashed a TV, and blocked the observation panel in the cell door so staff could not see her.

She also barricaded the door with a mattress, locker and other furniture which had been securely wedged in place, the inquest heard.

Mr Saunders said Latham had asked for tobacco but this was denied because she was a ‘four-man unlock’ - meaning it required four officers to be present for her cell to be opened.

He continued: “His (Latham’s) response was you better do something, if you don’t you will be in trouble, that is the way the conversation went.”

The checks continued and the last response was given at 4am.

Mr Saunders said he thought her mood had improved, he said: “I was asked the time. She wanted to talk to me rather than just ignore me. I thought we were turning a corner.”

However by 4.30am there was no longer any response from the cell and the lights were off.

The alarm was raised and, once more officers attended, a decision was made to enter the cell as quickly as possible.

Mr Saunders said: “We didn’t know what we faced. We had a decision to make regarding the correct response.

“We had no response, we had to go in, we didn’t have time to out on protective gear, we went in with our shirt sleeves.”

Another officer, Paul Fields, told the jury the barricade the officers encountered when they opened the door was the toughest he had come across in his seven-year career.

He said: “In all honesty I have dealt with barricades before, they are meant to be difficult for us to get through but that is the most difficult one I ever dealt with.”

Once they had realised Latham was hanging from the window an officer jumped over the barricade to cut her down while the others knocked down the obstruction so they could get in.

Mr Field said: “His eyes were open but from the colour of his eyes there was no sign of life, I believed he was dead.”

The inquest heard earlier that Latham has ordered some make up brushes some time repulsive and became “very upset” when they were delayed.

Prison officer Deborah Rosnovanu told the court Latham had made threats of self-harm and to kill prison staff after she was told about the delay in getting the brushes on the morning of November 26 last year.

She said: “He was very, very angry. He was extremely hostile and aggressive.

“He was threatening members of staff on the unit.”

Ms Rosnovanu added: “Eddie said he had a plan and she was going to carry it out and that she was at breaking point.

Staff believed this was in reference to harming officers not herself.

Ms Rosnovanu said: “Eddie made so many threats, he made threats about not getting a shower in time. He was very angry, heightened about the brushes situation but he was angry at staff not himself.”

The inquest is expected to last four days.