Norwich prisoner found hanging in cell - inquest

Ben KendallAn inmate found hanged in a cell two weeks before his release had told prison staff he feared he would die behind bars, an inquest heard.Ben Kendall

An inmate found hanged in a cell two weeks before his release had told prison staff he feared he would die behind bars, an inquest heard yesterday.

Arenijus Leonovas, 20, was discovered hanging at Norwich Prison on January 26 last year. Prison officers and medics managed to cut him down and resuscitated him. But he died in hospital the following day when doctors decided he had suffered severe brain damage and could not be maintained on life support.

His death was the third at the prison in less than two months - Martin Dixon, 48, and Adam Baughurst, 22, were also found in their cells - leading to a review of safety within the jail.

Giving evidence at a coroner's inquest at the Assembly House, Norwich, prison officer Marie Coles said she had noticed a difference in Mr Leonovas' behaviour since he had been moved to the young offenders' wing.

She added: 'He had always been a smiley chap, very polite and bubbly. But on the new landing he was very quiet.

'On January 23 he came to me and said 'tonight I'm going to die in this prison and you are going to read about it in the newspaper tomorrow'.

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'I followed him back to his cell and spoke to him. He said that there were voices at night talking through his window and saying they were going to kill him.'

Mr Leonovas was moved to another wing and monitored regularly. But three days later nurses were alerted to a 'code blue' incident, meaning he had stopped breathing.

Martin Edwards, a governor at the prison, said: 'There were three young offenders on the wing at the time who were charged with murder and one was a very high profile case so I wondered if that might have been playing on his mind.

'The young offenders' wing had a very boisterous atmosphere and the noise levels at night could be quite intimidating to anyone and particularly to somebody who spoke English as a second language and who may not have understood what was being said.

'I did not think he had mental health problems and I did not think he was being bullied. He may have had a feeling or perception of being vulnerable which is not uncommon in prison.'

Ms Coles added that inmates would shout during the night either to communicate with one another or to intimidate fellow prisoners. Some would learn how to bounce their voices off walls in order to be better heard.

Since the death young offenders have been mixed with the main prison popular in a bid to reduce disorder.

Mr Leonovas, originally from Lithuania but who had more recently living in Great Yarmouth, had been sentenced to two years in prison for an affray offence in August 2008. The sentence was later reduced to one year on appeal.

The inquest will resume tomorrow.