Christine was jailed for shoplifting shampoo and cheese – she died days later

A mother jailed for shoplifting shampoo and cheese took her own life just days later after her cries for help were ignored by prison staff, an inquest has heard.

Christine McDonald was locked up at HMP Styal in Cheshire on March 1, 2019. She was jailed for two offenses of shoplifting small valuable items such as shampoo, bubble bath, hair dye and cheese, and one offense of failing to comply with a community requirement of a suspended sentence, the Liverpool Echo reports.




The following day she was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital after concerns were raised during a medical assessment at the prison. She was returned to prison later that day and around 11pm that evening two prison officers found Christine in her cell with self-inflicted wounds.

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She was only 55 years old when she died the next day on March 3. An inquest at Cheshire Coroners’ Court concluded earlier this month that neglect contributed to Christine’s suicide, with a jury finding that staff had failed to follow proper healthcare guidelines.

Her daughter Cheri said her mother was “left alone and screaming for help.” She said: “Prison and healthcare staff had a responsibility and duty of care to at least ensure she stayed alive, they failed to do so.”

A Prison Service spokesman said the coroner’s findings would be ‘carefully considered’. The inquest, which ended on May 10, heard how Christine was sent to HMP Styal for a 12-week prison sentence.

The mother, who was struggling with an opiate addiction, was arrested in Blackpool with another of her daughters, who fell from the third floor with serious injuries. Upon her arrival at the jail, her behavior was described as anxious, suffering from opiate withdrawal, and concerned about her daughter’s injuries.

The inquest jury heard evidence that opiate dependence is a serious health problem and that rapid detoxification should be avoided, with additional observations needed for those who withdraw. Christine suffered significant withdrawal symptoms that included low mood.

An inquest has heard that Christine McDonald died by suicide caused by neglect(Image: no credit)

The following day she was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester after becoming concerned during a medical assessment in prison. She was then returned to HMP Styal.

The jury heard that documents about her drug addiction had not been read and information about her daughter’s welfare had not been passed on. On her return to hospital, the prison should have carried out a clinical assessment and ensured additional overnight observations took place.

The investigation revealed that two prison officers found her in her cell around 11 p.m. She was found to have a pulse and was taken back to Wythenshawe Hospital.

The inquest jury heard evidence that Christine had asked for a nurse half an hour before she was found, but prison staff did not carry out her request. The next day she was confirmed dead, surrounded by her family.

A jury concluded that there was gross negligence in providing care and attention to Christine, which directly contributed to her death. The jury identified a number of shortcomings, including: shortcomings in communication between healthcare and prison staff; failure to follow clinical guidelines on the treatment of drug addiction; and messages regarding her daughter’s well-being should have been communicated.

At the end of the inquest, her daughter Cheri said: “My mother was left alone screaming for help, rejected and ignored by staff until she could cope no longer and ended her own suffering… Prison and health care staff had a responsibility and duty of care to at least ensure that she stayed alive, and they failed to do that.

Christine McDonald took her own life at HMP Styal(Image: MEN’S MEDIA)

“We will never get over the loss of my mother, but I am speaking out in the hope that this does not continue to happen and if it does, other families realize that there are ways to identify and expose any shortcomings and to oppose this.”

Christine, a mother of four, was described as ‘kind, loving, with a good sense of humour’ and someone who ‘always puts others before herself’. Her family was supported by INQUEST.

Jordan Ferdinand-Sargeant, case officer at INQUEST, said: “Christine was a vulnerable woman who was imprisoned for shoplifting small valuables: shampoo, bubble bath, hair dye and cheese. Two days later she was dead. She needed care and support, not a prison sentence.

“Time and again we see the dangerous and fatal consequences of sending women to prison, not least those with complex needs like Christine. Deaths in Styal Prison are at a record high and two self-inflicted deaths in December are once again raising serious questions about the health and safety of women.

“We urgently need to dismantle prisons and refocus resources on holistic, gender-responsive community services. Only then can we put an end to the deaths of women in prison.”

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our thoughts remain with the friends and family of Christine McDonald. We are investing £14 million to improve safety in women’s prisons and strengthen the support given to people at risk of self-harm or suicide. We will review the coroner’s findings carefully and respond in due course.”

Help and support

Samaritans (116 123) samaritans.org has a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you feel, or are concerned about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org, write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, STIRLING , FK8 2SA and visit www.samaritans.org/branches to find your nearest branch.

To support people if you feel suicidal, if you are worried about someone or if you are thinking of killing yourself, see http://shiningalightonsuicide.org.uk

CALM (0800 58 58 58) thecalmzone.net has a helpline for men who, for whatever reason, are in trouble or have hit a wall, who need to talk or want to find information and support. They are open 365 days a year from 5pm to midnight.

Greater Manchester Funeral Service The Greater Manchester Bereavement Service can help find support for anyone in Greater Manchester who is bereaved or affected by a death. No one has to feel alone when dealing with their grief. www.greater-manchester-bereavement-service.org.uk

Children’s line (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in Britain. Calling is free and the number will not appear on your telephone bill.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a volunteer organization that supports teenagers and young adults who are suicidal.

Beat Eating Disorders: Beat offers helplines for adults and young people offering support and information about eating disorders. These helplines can be called free of charge from all telephones. Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677, Student Line: 0808 801 0811, Youth Line: 0808 801 0711. www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Care for anorexia and bulimia: ABC provides ongoing care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders, those who are personally struggling and parents, families and friends. Helpline: 03000 11 12 13. www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/

Students against depression is a website for students who are depressed, in a bad mood or have suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying, Studentsagainstdepression.org

For information and links to charities and organizations that can help with substance abuse, visit https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/drugs/

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