PRISON staff need to be more vigilant after the death of an inmate who took a psychoactive substance, a review says.

It comes following an independent investigation into the death of Thomas Lawrence, a prisoner at HM Prison Risley, by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, which ‘aims to make a significant contribution to safer, fairer custody and community supervision’.

Lawrence died on October 12, 2018, from the toxic effects of psychoactive substances (PS) aged just 27.

An inquest into his death concluded on November 24, with a jury concluding that his death was drug related.

Lawrence’s death was the fifth at Risley in the past two years where the prisoner was found to have used PS before their deaths.

Both HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Independent Monitoring Board have expressed concern at the availability of PS at Risley.

An investigation report states that on March 12, 2018, Lawrence was convicted of supplying drugs and sentenced to five years and 11 months in prison. He was moved to HMP Risley on May 10 from HMP Manchester.

On July 10, he told his offender supervisor that he had built up a debt because he broke another prisoner’s Nintendo games console and had been buying PS.

He was concerned that the debt would ‘follow him around the prison’ and that he did not feel able to leave the wing to go to work, so he asked for a prison transfer.

During a check of his cell on July 27, Lawrence was found to be in possession of ‘hooch’ – illicitly brewed alcohol – and at a disciplinary hearing he was found guilty of breaking prison rules.

During another meeting, he said he started using cannabis when he was 13 or 14, and cocaine from around 17 or 18.

He said that he had used spice, a form of PS, when he first arrived at Risley, but he had remained drug free since then and he was feeling better as a result.

On October 12, shortly after 11.30am, officers began unlocking prisoners’ cells for mealtime, and Lawrence was found on his bed appearing unconscious, not breathing and with no pulse.

An ambulance was called, a cylinder of oxygen requested and staff began chest compressions.

Nurses and officers continued to try to treat Lawrence with chest compressions, oxygen and emergency drugs, and he was also checked periodically with a defibrillator.

Paramedics arrived at 12.08pm and assisted with the efforts to try to resuscitate him, but again without success, and at 12.30pm they declared that he was dead.

Police investigators viewed CCTV footage taken on the morning of October 12 which showed several other prisoners going to Lawrence’s cell.

When interviewed by police, several prisoners said that he had used illicit drugs at Risley, and he appeared to be under the influence of drugs on the morning of his death.

Following a post-mortem examination, toxicology tests showed that Lawrence had taken PS before he died.

The post-mortem report concluded that the most likely cause of his death was due to PS toxicity.

A section of the investigation report entitled ‘findings’ reads: “Lawrence was the fifth PS-related death at Risley in less than two years.

“HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Independent Monitoring Board have expressed concern at the prevalence of PS at the prison.

“We are aware that Risley introduced a new drugs strategy in November 2019 to tackle supply and demand. This will need to be implemented fully to reduce the harm caused by PS.

“There was no evidence in the prison records that staff had ever seen Lawrence under the influence of drugs, even though prisoners reported to police that he used drugs and was under the influence on the morning of his death.

“Staff need to be vigilant for signs of drug use and take appropriate action.”

Further recommendations include the governor and head of healthcare ensuring all staff are made aware of and understand their responsibilities during medical emergencies.

In particular, all officers should be able to administer basic life support if appropriate and without delay.