Whitemoor Prison officer, from Wisbech, killed himself after suffering post traumatic stress disorder, inquest told

Stephen Fox.

Stephen Fox. - Credit: Archant

A prison officer killed himself after suffering depression, flashbacks from working at Wormwood Scrubs prison and post traumatic stress disorder from torture dished out during an army training exercise, an inquest heard.

Father of three Stephen Fox, 49, went missing from his Wisbech home on January 31 after he was signed off from work in December with depression and stress, an inquest heard.

His body was pulled from the River Nene, at Guyhirn, on March 3 with weights tied to his left wrists after a member of public spotted him.

Coroner for North and East Cambridgeshire William Morris said Mr Fox was “clearly ill” and “deliberately put himself into the river” although no-one will ever know when or where.

The inquest heard that Mr Fox was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder that had surfaced years after the event due to being subjected to waterboarding torture during an army training exercise in his younger years.

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Waterboarding, which is now a banned form of interrogation torture, induces panic by forcing a person to inhale water. The head is tilted back and water poured into the upturned mouth or nose, forcing the subject to be “drowned” from the inside.

Mr Fox, who was a highly respected prison officer at Whitemoor, in March, and since 2010 also ran his own successful hypnotherapy counselling business, started to go downhill in his mental health around October last year, the inquest heard, and by December was reported to be struggling.

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On December 30 he attempted to hang himself but stopped. He was referred to the emergency mental health team, who carried out an assessment and made regular calls and appointments to assess his well being.

Mr Fox did not want to go into hospital or take medication as he was concerned about the side effects, the inquest heard.

By January 17 he was discharged from the mental health service as he said he was improving but on January 31 he went missing from his home in Clarkson Avenue, prompting desperate pleas to find him.

Prison tribute to officer ‘passionate’ about his work

Tributes were paid to Stephen Fox by colleagues at Whitemoor Prison, in March, who said he was popular with staff and prisoners.

Mr Fox worked on the dangerous personality unit at the prison which was an emotional and often demanding role, the inquest heard, and was in the top five per cent of staff for his work performance.

Jim Whittaker, his line manager, said: “Stephen was passionate about his work. He had a good rapport with prisoners and staff alike and was very understanding of other people’s issues.

“He was the sort of officer who would find reasons behind behaviour, he was not afraid of confrontation but rather he worked on the basis of a calm, controlled and measured approach.

“He was a key player and as a work colleague was an excellent example for others to follow. He took his job seriously and genuinely cared for other people.

“He was highly regarded by all who worked with him and was held in high regard by inmates.”

Jacqui Saradijan, consultant clinical and forensic psychologist, said she visited Mr Fox at home in the capacity of a supportive work colleague and friend during his time off sick.

She told the inquest: “He had florid flashbacks and nightmares and showed physiological symptoms of the trauma he had experienced.

“At times when we spoke he struggled to breathe and was rigid.

“He was suffering psychological and physical experiences.”

Ms Saradijan last saw Mr Fox on January 28 - three days before he went missing - and was concerned he had made a “flight into health”, a scenario where a person is so worried about dealing with traumatic past experiences that they feign good mental health.

She said: “Short term it works but long term it leaves a person very vulnerable. He seemed too well too soon and I was concerned that he said he felt much better. I was not fully convinced.

“For someone who just a few weeks before had tried to hang himself, he felt too positive.”

The inquest was told that the prison was planning a phased return to work for Mr Fox from February 3 and had arranged cognitive behavioural therapy counselling.

Wife felt she was not ‘kept in the loop’ on treatment

The mental health team dealing with Stephen Fox lost paperwork and didn’t carry out a proper risk assessment until the day before he was discharged, the inquest heard.

It was also told that his wife Catherine, who was his main carer, was also not consulted on his treatment and care plan.

Mr Fox was referred from the King’s Lynn crisis psychiatric team at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Trust after he tried to hang himself on December 30 last year.

The inquest heard, however, that notes taken at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital were lost and that the handover was instead made verbally.

There was no risk assessment made of his condition until January 16 and he was discharged from the service on January 17.

Coroner William Morris said that reports showed that Mrs Fox did not feel she had been involved properly as his carer.

Annie Ng, head of patient experience at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Mrs Fox felt she was not kept in the loop.

“Catherine Fox felt quite forgotten about and that no-one in the team involved any effort in trying to contact her. There were errors of good practice.”

Mrs Fox did not feel her husband was ready to be discharged from the service, she added.

The case has since prompted changes in the service to ensure all new core and risk assessments are offered at an early stage and are put as soon as possible onto the computer systems.

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