The following is something I wrote following a visit to the grieving parents of Sheena Kotecha who hanged herself in prison at the age of 22. She is now a statistic with self-harm and suicide rising at an alarming rate. Politicians are continuing to tell us that “prison works”. Where is the evidence that it does? Another record has been broken now with the news that the youngest prisoner has killed himself. The rate among women is scandalous. Pauline Campbell has been campaigning by demonstrating at the scene of each incident as it occurs. She is now attracting coverage in the press. However she continues to be arrested for her efforts. She has lost her daughter through the failure of the prison system to protect her.
I visited the family of Sheena Kotecha this morning Sunday 4th April together with Jamnadas Vadhia and his wife. Mr Vadhia is a prison visitor and he met with Sheena only last Monday. She, as the report says, was very depressed and vulnerable. She was a vegetarian and I understand the prison was not providing her with adequate food.
On Friday she was taken in a prison van from her prison near Redditch to Leicester. I hear that she had to stand shackled to a high point. Since she was only around 5 feet high and weighed only 5 stone I would like to know how she stood the ordeal. Presumably the journey was not direct as other prisoners were collected from different points. Her parents, family and friends were in court yet they were not allowed to speak with her. The next thing they knew is that she was dead. They are saying she committed suicide, but I suggested that they should wait for proof that this was the case. The scene at the house was heart rending with mother and grandmother, holding her granddaughter’s picture to her, inconsolable.
Sheena I understand, had no previous record of trouble. She was reported to have been a well behaved child and young person at home and at school. I fail to understand why she should have had a 9 year sentence given to her. My first impression was that she was unaware of what her acquaintance was planning to do. I would like proof that this was not the case. The local press had a front page headline “Bonny and Clyde” theft.
As a Councillor this is not the first case I have had to deal with of an inappropriately sentenced vulnerable young woman.
Cllr John Tyrrell,
‘Bonnie and Clyde’ prisoner found dead
By Chris Bunting The Independent Monday 5th April 2004
A woman who committed a “Bonnie and Clyde-style” armed robbery with her lover so they could run away together has hanged herself in prison, the Prison Service said yesterday.
Sheena Kotecha, 22, was found hanging in her cell at Brockhill prison in Redditch at 9.40am on Saturday, a day after she was jailed for holding up a Securicor van with her boyfriend Daniel Wright.
Ms Kotecha, from Belgrave in Staffordshire, had acted as the getaway driver during the robbery in which Mr Wright, 23, from Wigston, Leicestershire, approached a security guard outside a supermarket and pointed a fake pistol at his head.
The pair made off with £24,000 in cash and cheques which had been emptied from a banking machine. However, a shopper wrote down Kotecha’s car registration number and both were later arrested. They were sentenced to nine years for robbery and possession of an imitation firearm at Leicester Crown Court.
Recorder Phillip Matthews compared the couple’s case to the celebrated crime spree of lovers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in 1930s America: “It was premeditated and very much in the style reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde,” he said.
Before she was sentenced, Ms Kotecha’s barrister Philip Gibbs had warned that his client was depressed. However, a statement from the Prison Service yesterday said she was not being treated as a vulnerable prisoner at the time of her death and was not on suicide watch.
An investigation into Ms Kotecha’s death will be carried out by the Prisons Ombudsman. The coroner has also been informed.
Miscarriages of JusticeUK (MOJUK)
Record female jail suicides feared
Tania Branigan The Guardian Thursday October 14, 2004
see also Inquest