THE full extent of a drug problem in a North-East jail was laid bare last night, with a prison nurse saying the effects of 'Spice' are the worst she has seen in her 42-year career.

Jean Black, a nurse at Holme House Prison, in Stockton, said drones are being used to bring the drug into the jail and staff have been hospitalised because of its effects.

The revelations were revealed during an inquest into the death of prisoner William Abel, from Darlington, who died in his cell in November 2016.

The inquest heard that 'Spice', which is effectively herbs spiked with synthetic cannabinoids, can cause people to become unconscious, aggressive or violent, and suffer from vomiting.

The drug is often smoked, but Abel’s inquest, held at Teesside Coroner’s Court yesterday, heard that it was being mixed with boiling water in kettles and the steam inhaled by prisoners.

Ms Black said the drug had been brought in by people throwing it over prison walls, as well as via drones and friends and family of inmates.

“It is an awful drug," she said. "It is the worst drug I have come across in 42 years of nursing. I have worked in drug clinics in London and I have never come across anything like this."

Ms Black revealed she had been badly affected by just a “couple of seconds” of exposure to it, while another prison officer giving evidence confirmed he had been hospitalised.

“I realised what it was and I went to put an oxygen mask on. I felt giddy, I was walking sideways, I don’t drink alcohol but I can imagine that is what it feels like,” she said.

“I had an awful headache, and the least funny thing I would find funny.

“Staff (who have suffered) have been engulfed by fear and paranoia – some are frightened to go outside, some are scared to go into a crowd.”

Senior Coroner Claire Bailey asked if it was possible that you would want to kill or harm yourself under the influence of 'Spice', to which Ms Black replied: “Yes”.

Abel was found in the early hours of November 18, 2016, by his cell mate, Simon McPhee, with cuts to his wrist, and he alerted staff.

Prison officers and nurses tried to stem the flow of blood.

It took paramedics almost 15 minutes from their arrival to reach the 45-year-old, but Ms Black said the amount of blood that he had lost meant that life “couldn’t be maintained”.

A post mortem found Abel had suffered severe blood loss and three broken ribs, which were consistent with CPR, and there was no evidence of physical abuse. He was also on anti-depressants with a dosage consistent of therapeutic use.

The report confirmed that 'Spice' was found within his system, but it was unable to determine when the substance had been taken or if there were any adverse effects.

The inquest heard that Abel had received support from a mental health charity for anxiety, depression and substance misuse in the months prior to his death, but staff found no signs of him being at risk of self-harm or suicide.

McPhee said he had never seen Abel using 'Spice', but knew it was “available in the wing”.

Last year The Northern Echo revealed a £200,000 'Spice' haul had been found in Holme House.

  • The inquest continues.