'We want lessons to be learned' say family of Hartlepool prisoner who died in jail

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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Stockton/Hartlepool)

THE family of a prisoner who died after a fire in his cell said they hope lessons will be learned from his death.

An inquest heard that Hartlepool man John Raymond Cann, who was 51 and a long-term alcoholic, lit a fire in his cell at Holme House Prison, Stockton and barricaded the door.

Prison officers were delayed entering the cell because they could not access the key needed for the cell door to open outwards.

The jury at the inquest in Middlesbrough unanimously recorded an accidental verdict today (Friday, March 15) and ruled that he died as a result of smoke inhalation.

Afterwards Mr Cann’s brother-in-law, John McLean, said: “We hope lessons will be learned, especially about getting access to the key to get in the cell. It took 23 minutes. We know the officers were very brave trying to save him but the delays were too long.”

Mr McLean said the family was considering legal action.

A spokesman for the Prison Service said: "There were delays gaining access to Mr Cann's cell on the day of the fire but the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman found that it was hard to see what more staff could have done to save Mr Cann.”

The inquest heard that Mr Cann, of Whitby Walk, had been sent to Holme House Prison on October 31, 2011, to await sentence after pleading guilty to a criminal damage charge.

His behaviour was described as “bizarre and erratic” by prison officers several times in the inquest. Mr Cann, who would drink a bottle of vodka a day before prison, threw a curry meal over an officer, smashed up TV and a cell in the three days after being sent to prison.

He sometimes slurred and often did not make sense. Yet at other times he was coherent and apologetic for his actions.

The inquest heard that on November 3, Mr Cann was moved to a cell after being involved in an argument with two other inmates.

At 4.05pm he barricaded his cell with a bed and at about 4.20pm set fire to blankets using a cigarette lighter.

Ten minutes later the alarm was sounded. Prison officers were unable to open the door outwards and smashed the glass panel to flood the cell with water.

At 4.53pm officers got to his body and, despite Mr Cann having no pulse at that point, managed to resuscitate him. However, a decision was taken to turn off Mr Cann’s life support machine the next day.

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