Security contractor Serco has been fined more than £2 million for health and safety failings which led to the death of a custody officer by a mentally ill prisoner.
Lorraine Barwell, 54, was attacked by Humphrey Burke, 29, at Blackfriars Crown Court in central London in June 2015 after he tried to break her out of her cell.
Burke pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was given an indefinite hospital order at the Old Bailey in January last year.
Ms Barwell’s employer, Serco – which is contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide security services to courts, pleaded guilty last April to failure to discharge a general health, safety and welfare duty from January 2014 to March 2017 .
Lorraine Barwell (Handout/PA)
The prosecution claimed that two attacks on custody officers – Ms Barwell and Bernadette Cawley – during that period demonstrated what could happen if the right health and safety measures were not taken.
Ms Cawley, who survived the attack, was found strangled and banged against a wall in the dock at the Annex Court of Woolwich Crown Court in June 2016, but when she raised the alarm another custody staffer came to help Wasn’t around.
Although Serco admitted two limited breaches in relation to two incidents in Blackfriars and Woolwich, it denied they were “causes” of harm to the women.
But prosecutors alleged there were widespread failings in areas including risk assessment, staffing levels, training and monitoring.
On Friday Justice Jeremy Baker fined Serco £2,250,000 and ordered the firm to pay costs to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of £433,596.
In imposing his sentence, the senior judge found that Serko’s level of culpability for the offense was “high”.
Among the failings, he said, was the “inadequate” availability of court custody officers, an issue that had been raised with management “on several occasions”.
Mr Justice Baker said there was a “clear and avoidable” risk that Burke would force Ms Barwell out, leaving her badly injured.
He highlighted Burke’s “inadequate communication” of the risks and “inadequate regard as to the way they should be handled safely, as the people involved are moving in an unsafe manner rather than having the proper regard for their safety”. In which Mr. Burke was handled on this occasion.
He concluded: “I am satisfied that had it not been for Serco’s breach of duty to its employees, Lorraine Barwell would not have died in the circumstances in which she did at Blackfriars Crown Court on 29 June 2015.”
The judge said the impact of Ms Barwell’s death was “very clear” from reading a statement from her family.
In a victim impact statement, Ms Barwell’s daughter Louise Grainne said: “Our mum was a wonderful loving mother to me, my brother and her two granddaughters, who she loved and adored, and they love her Used to love
“She too was a friend to many and loved by many. Losing him has left a huge void in everyone’s heart.
“Mom was my best friend and she helped me take care of my daughter. We talked about plans to move abroad to live in the sun after Mom retired from work. All that is gone now.
HSE Inspector Helen Donnelly said: “Serco failed colossally in its duties to protect both Lorraine Barwell and other staff over a sustained period. It is not unusual to have a case covering such a long period, but it appears that Serco Limited is not learning from its mistakes.
“Lorraine Barwell and her colleagues were just doing their jobs and should have been protected from harm. These incidents could have been prevented if Serco had complied with its legal duties.
“While this investigation has been long and complicated, we hope that Lorraine’s friends and family will find some comfort in today’s sentencing and see that justice has now been served.”
“No matter what working environment you are in, health and safety regulation is designed to protect people at work. We will not hesitate to take action against those who fail to protect their workers.
Anthony Kirby, Serco chief executive UK and Europe, said: “When Lorraine was fatally attacked by Humphrey Burke in 2015, everyone at Serco was deeply shocked and saddened and we send our deepest condolences to her family and friends Let’s continue
“Lorraine was a brave and experienced prisoner custody officer who was a popular and highly respected member of our team and worked for Serco for over 10 years. She is still greatly missed by her colleagues and everyone at Serco Is.
“The safety and well-being of associates is our top priority and as recognized by the court, we have made improvements to our security procedures. We make continuous efforts to ensure that such an incident never happens again.”