Published by The Times
A young man left severely brain damaged after falling from a prison bunk bed has won £4.7 million in damages from the Home Office in an out-of-court settlement.
Ryan St George, now 41, was serving a four-month sentence for theft when he fell 6ft from the top bunk in his cell and smashed his head on the concrete floor of Brixton Prison in November 1997. He then suffered an epileptic fit lasting nearly two hours.
In 2007, Mr Justice Mackay ruled at the High Court that “delays and deficiencies” on the part of prison staff amounted to negligence and said the Home Office was 85 per cent to blame for Mr St George’s injuries.
The following year, the Court of Appeal allowed Mr St George’s appeal against the finding of his 15 per cent contributory negligence, made on the basis that his “lifestyle choices” – an addiction to alcohol and benzodiazepine – had contributed to his condition and caused the initial fit.
Mr St George had admitted to being an intravenous heroin user and a heavy drinker when he began his prison sentence.
Today, the case came back to court in London for Mr Justice Mackay to approve an agreed settlement which will pay for the 24-hour care that Mr St George will need for the rest of his life.
The court heard that after the accident Mr St George’s journey to hospital was delayed by a half an hour while an ambulance was called. This was further delayed by a van obstructing prison gates and then a debate among prison staff as to who should accompany the critically ill prisoner to hospital.
“The ambulance was kept waiting at a time when speed was of the essence, by what the prison governer called the arrogant and unacceptable attitude of a particular prison officer who refused to accompany the ambulance,” Mr Justice Mackay said.
“The ambulance was not called for 39 minutes after the event, despite the common sense view being formed within a minute or so that he would have to go to hospital,” the judge said.
“When [paramedics] arrived, they found Mr St George, as they put it, in as bad a state as a person can be without being dead. The scene was chaotic. The only information the ambulance crew got was from the other inmates surrounding him.”
Mr Justice Mackay added that Mr St George “was an accident waiting to happen.”
“The matter was settled out of court between the parties and the settlement figure reflects both compensation for the severe injuries that Mr St George suffered, and his future needs,” a prison service spokesman said.