The parents of a 25-year-old man left to die in a cell by a negligent prison nurse given responsibility for 800 inmates have told how the conditions in which their son died will haunt them for ever.
The case – the 27th death in just five years at HMP Nottingham – was said to illustrate the desperate state of Britain’s understaffed and increasingly dangerous prison system.
Alex Braund, a pub chef and keen rugby player, was being held on remand awaiting trial when he fell ill in his cell with the first signs of pneumonia on 6 March 2020.
Four days later, on the morning of 10 March, after a series of ill-fated attempts by Braund’s cellmate to get prison staff to take the situation seriously, the young man collapsed.
Prison staff responded to an emergency bell rung by Braund’s cellmate at 6.55am, but they initially only looked through the cell hatch, taking five minutes to enter the cell in order to give CPR.
Braund was subsequently taken to Queen’s medical centre in Nottingham, where he was pronounced dead at 11.44am of cardiac arrest caused by pneumonia.
The jury at an inquest at Nottinghamshire coroner’s court found there had been a “continuous failure to provide adequate healthcare”, with a prison officer told by a nurse a few hours before Braund’s death that there was “nothing to be done at this time of night”.
Questioning during the hearing revealed that the nurse, who has since lost her job and been reported to the nursing and midwifery council, had amended her records on the morning of Braund’s death.
The assistant coroner Laurinda Bower has said she intends to refer the case to the police in relation to possible offences of falsifying medical records and perjury.
Braund’s mother, Deborah Grange, 57, a local government officer from Matlock in Derbyshire, said the eight days of the hearing into her son’s death had been harrowing.
“I was expecting it to be bad but it did not prepare me for what we had to watch and listen to,” she said. “I’ve just been living with Alex’s most final moments, you know, he spoke to his girlfriend in the early hours. There was a feeling of abandonment, you know, sort of, you’re just doomed, you know, destined to end your days in that cell. That will haunt me for ever.”
Braund’s father, Tim Braund, 58, who also works in local government, said: “What we’re interested in is trying to make sure nobody else suffers. Having heard the coroner, we have to be sceptical about the organisation’s willingness to improve.”
HMP Nottingham was described in its latest inspectorate report in 2020 as having had for “many years” a “well-deserved reputation for being an unsafe prison”.
One 80-year-old prisoner was throttled to death with a sheet in 2016 while watching snooker in his cell, and another in 2018 was stabbed to death with plastic cutlery, strangled with a ligature made from shoelaces and suffocated with a plastic bag.
Braund had been remanded into the institution on 13 February 2020 after being charged with possession of a bladed article. His parents said their son had become mixed up with people selling recreational drugs but that he had denied carrying a weapon. “But he was present when other people were involved in stuff they shouldn’t have been,” his father said. “Obviously he never got around to being tried for it.”
Braund started to feel unwell on 6 March. The following day he reported coughing up brown phlegm. A diagnosis of a common cold was made. His chest was not examined with a stethoscope and “probing questions were not asked”, the inquest heard.
At 10.22pm on 9 March, the night before his death, the emergency cell bell was activated. Braund was said to have appeared scared. His request to go to hospital was denied and basic checks were not carried out. He was told that an appointment to see a doctor would be made for the following morning.
Contrary to the evidence initially given to the hearing by a prison officer, the inquest found there were no further observations of Braund between 10.52pm and 5.35am the following day, when the emergency cell bell was run again by his cellmate.
The nurse still did not visit Braund. At 6.55am, the cell bell was called again and Hill started shouting for help. The cell door was finally opened at 7am, and a 999 call was made a minute later.
Lucy McKay, a spokesperson for the charity Inquest, said: “Alex was neglected by a prison which has a long record of failing to protect the health and wellbeing of those who are owed a duty of care. He was also failed in death by staff who lied about their actions, and investigators who failed to address this.”
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our thoughts remain with Mr Braund’s family and friends. Since this tragic incident we have introduced extra training for staff responding to medical emergencies. We will consider the jury’s findings and respond to the coroner’s recommendations in due course.”