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Edward Panting (Death)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd January 1964.

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Photo of Mr Philip Hocking Mr Philip Hocking , Coventry South 12:00 am, 23rd January 1964

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will make a statement with regard to the death in Her Majesty's Prison at Wormwood Scrubs on 26th December of Edward Charles Panting, and the events leading up to it;

(2) what action was taken by the prison authorities when Edward Charles Panting was placed in solitary confinement at Her Majesty's Prison, Wormwood Scrubs on 26th December last, in view of his previous case history and tendencies.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

Panting was in the allocation centre at Wormwood Scrubs awaiting transfer to a training borstal. He was found hanging by his belt from his cell window; all efforts to resuscitate him failed. He was not in solitary confinement, but earlier in the evening he had been involved in a fight and had been placed in a separate cell pending inquiry. He appeared to be perfectly normal when an officer took him his supper, which he ate. Less than 45 minutes later he was found hanging.

In Aylesbury prison in September, 1963, when serving a previous sentence, Panting had slightly cut his left wrist in a fit of temper. This was not thought to be a suicide attempt. Nothing was known to suggest that he might attempt suicide.

I deeply regret the tragedy of his death. I do not consider that it could have been foreseen or prevented.

Photo of Mr Philip Hocking Mr Philip Hocking , Coventry South

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there was adequate supervision of the boys in the television hall prior to the fight which led up to Panting being put in a cell on his own? How is it that this boy could start a fight on three occasions and get hold of some broken glass with which to attack one of his fellow prisoners if there was adequate supervision at that time? Can he say whether force was used by the warders, as has been alleged in the court, to put Panting in a cell on his own? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that on the occasion when Panting attempted to cut his wrist in Aylesbury Prison he also removed the stitches from his arm and attempted to allow himself to bleed to death? Was that not an attempt at suicide?

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

With regard to the last incident mentioned by my hon. Friend, the medical officer at Aylesbury Prison considered that it was not an attempt at suicide. Of course, it is not uncommon for prisoners or borstal inmates to do themselves slight damage by cutting themselves, often with a view to getting into hospital as a result. I can assure the House that there was adequate supervision throughout. I do not believe that the House wishes that there should be, as it were, one prison officer to every inmate who should be watching his every movement throughout the day. There must be a measure of association. Panting was a boy who, on more than one occasion, got into a fight. Unfortunately, this happened. It seemed right to put him in a cell by himself for a time and, most unfortunately and wholly unexpectedly, he put something around his neck and hanged himself. It is a terrible tragedy, but I really do not believe that the right thing would be to supervise individually every borstal inmate, with a large staff, every moment of the day.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Will the Home Secretary consider further the evidence that he not only slightly cut his wrist in Aylesbury gaol but then tried to tear out the stitches? We are told that this was no evidence, but if there was any adequate psychological study of these cases it would be clear that this boy had tendencies to suicide. Is it not an indictment of the lack of observation that we should have reports now that there was no evidence on which to come to this conclusion?

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

No, Sir. The prison medical staff are very well experienced in judging these men and boys, and there was no reason to believe that what happened in Aylesbury Prison was a suicide attempt of any kind. One does not like to speak about those who are no longer living, but Panting had shown himself when he had been in custody to be a somewhat aggressive young man and was certainly considered someone who was more likely to injure others than himself.