Remand prisoner who 'feared for his life' found dead at Durham Jail

John Collins was found dead at Durham Prison.
John Collins was found dead at Durham Prison.

A prisoner who was in "fear for his life" while being held on remand in HMP Durham has been found dead, a court has heard.

John Collins, who was in his 20s, claimed he had been attacked at the jail and appeared to have been badly beaten when he appeared in court via video link from the prison last month.

He told his lawyer shortly before the hearing on October 17 he was "terrified" and in "fear for his life".

At Newcastle Crown Court today, Collins' barrister said the remand prisoner has committed suicide and raised concerns about the level of protection the 29-year-old was given at the jail.

Tom Finch, who represented Collins this morning and at the last hearing, said he feared for other vulnerable prisoners in custodial settings, and that he would refer his concerns over Mr Collins' case to the coroner.

Mr Finch told the court he had spoken to Collins just before his last court hearing and was told he had been "badly attacked in prison the Friday before".

He said: "Such were my concerns for this defendant that I raised before the judge the concerns I had about the safety of this young man."

The lawyer said he had outlined in court that Mr Collins had been attacked and that he was "in fear for his life" and "terrified".

Mr Finch said there is no blame to be attached to the court service.

He added: "It was quite apparent from him on screen, and he confirmed it to me, he suffered significant injuries to his head and face.

"He had a wound to his head. He was badly bruised around his eyes and he had scars around his neck.

"The scars looked like some form of laceration mark, multiple marks around his neck.

"I indicated there would have to be a urgent bail application made to seek to protect this man.

"I have never uttered those words before in court, such were my concerns for him.

"I did so in the hope prison staff who were there in that video link room would hear what I was saying."

Mr Finch said it was "absolutely tragic" for a young man to die in such circumstances.

He added: "I have no hesitation in uttering these words again in court, because no matter who the prisoner is and no matter what he is accused of, when he is in custody of the prison service he is entitled to some measure of protection from whoever it is who may wish to harm him.

"I will be writing to the coroner about this case. I suspect unless I express the concern I had at the time and continue to express, the coroner will not hear of this.

"I flag up whether or not this man was afforded the measure of protection to make him feel as secure as he possibly could have done while in prison, such as to prevent him taking the course he inevitably did, apparently, suicide.

Mr Finch said Collins' defence team had taken steps to organise a bail hostel for him to go to, and added: "We thought he may be able to be bailed in order to protect him when there was risks he was obviously exposed to in prison.

"It causes me great concern for all those who are vulnerable in prison, they deserve the protection, the best protection that can be afforded."

Collins, from Bedlington in Northumberland, had faced charges including threats to kill, attempted criminal damage and burglary.

Judge Sarah Mallett closed the case in relation to all matters and said Collins remains unconvicted in relation to them, adding: "It is a very sad situation."

Prosecutor Kevin Wardlaw confirmed that the cases should be closed "due to the death of the defendant".