Family living with unanswered questions and stigma four years on from HMP Leeds suicide

Jenny Collingwood will hold a vigil outside HMP Leeds today to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of Matthew Stubbs. Picture: James Hardisty.
Jenny Collingwood will hold a vigil outside HMP Leeds today to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of Matthew Stubbs. Picture: James Hardisty.

The stigma surrounding suicide can make the trauma of losing a loved one all the harder to cope with, but when it happens in prison the isolation felt by families is even greater.

This was the experience of Jenny Collingwood when Matthew Stubbs, her former partner and father of her son, died in hospital three days after trying to hang himself in HMP Leeds.

Matthew Stubbs, who died in hospital on July 29, 2013 after hanging himself at HMP Leeds.

Matthew Stubbs, who died in hospital on July 29, 2013 after hanging himself at HMP Leeds.

“Any suicide is hard because you’re left with questions but particularly when it’s in a prison,” she said. “You’ve not only got the stigma of suicide but a suicide that’s in prison.

“A lot of people I’ve spoken to have been offered to go to the Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide charity, but not all of us have wanted to go because it’s that feeling you’re still isolated. It’s a little bit of embarrassment and the fear of how people are going to look at you.”

The judgement which might be passed by others became clear soon after 36-year-old Mr Stubbs died in July 2013 when one newspaper ran a story about his death, focusing largely on the three-year sentence he had served around a decade earlier for manslaughter.

Miss Collingwood, 28, recalls being in a newsagents as an elderly woman remarked on the front page.

HMP Leeds in Armley.

HMP Leeds in Armley.

“She said: ‘Well that’s one less for us taxpayers to pay for.’ I thought that’s now what we’ve got to face for the rest of our lives. I was just trying to fight for some form of justice or accountability and that’s what I’ve come up against. It’s hard. It’s really hard.

“As a family, we’d never condone the things he had done. He was criminal, but he was also very much a family man. His kids were everything.”

READ MORE: Procedures ‘fail to recognise grief’ of families coping with death in custody

Today (Saturday) she will join others outside the prison at 3.30pm to hold a vigil to mark the fourth anniversary of Mr Stubbs’ death, and to highlight the suicides of others at the prison since he died.

“Matthew was cremated because we were partly fearful of his grave being vandalised so we don’t have somewhere to go to pay our respects,” she said. “For the first couple of years, me and the kids let balloons off but last year I wanted to do something different. The vigil was something where we could go.”

Mr Stubbs’ family had hoped that the month-long inquest held in 2015 would provide answers, but some questions remained for them.

Concerns were raised by the coroner, however, about systems in place and the use of segregation, particularly for prisoners such as Mr Stubbs who had a history of mental health issues.

READ MORE: What conclusion did the inquest into death of Matthew Stubbs reach?

When the prison finally responded to the coroner in April this year, it amounted to a little more than one side of A4.

“We just feel that isn’t a satisfactory response,” Miss Collingwood said. “They haven’t actually said what they’ve done.

“Part of this for us is about preventing further deaths. I made some enquiries and there’s been 12 deaths since Matthew’s.

“It’s just horrific. We just want for no other family to have to go through that.”

Miss Collingwood, who lives in Bradford, is also keen to see that other families going through the inquest process are given better support and advice on legal representation.

“When you go to the inquest, you want the whole story,” she said. “No matter what we heard, we just wanted the truth.

“It’s hard to get closure with a suicide anyway. You’re always left with questions. We didn’t really learn anything we didn’t know. We had done a lot of looking into the paperwork.

“It’s just left us with nowhere to turn now. You’re told there’s nothing more you can do. You’ve had your inquest.”

The Ministry of Justice did not provide a comment.

Families united by loss of loved ones in jail

Inspired by her experience, Jenny Collingwood set up a Facebook group where families can support each other.

“For me, the worst times were the nights in the initial stages when the kids were in bed and you had nothing to distract you,” she said.

“Your mind is racing with questions and upset. You’re desperate to talk to somebody and there’s nobody to talk to which is why I started up the Facebook page – Families Bereaved By Death In Prison.

“A lot of people do message me privately or ring me. A lot of them have been going through this for years and it might be their loved one’s anniversary coming up.”

Today a vigil will be held outside HMP Leeds to mark the fourth anniversary of Matthew Stubbs’ death. Other families are invited to join it at 3.30pm.

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