In just one month last summer, three inmates were found hanged in their cells at Lewes prison.

Inquests into the deaths of ex-police officer Peter Foster, South Chailey man Nathan Vaughan-Jones and paedophile Colin Morton are still due to be concluded, but it is believed they took their own lives.

Tony Couchman, of Hastings, committed suicide in the prison in 2010. Now a prison service report has found HMP Lewes needs to improve its “self-harm monitoring procedure”.

Crime reporter Anna Roberts investigates

There are “notable deficiencies” in training at a prison where three men hanged themselves in just a few weeks last summer, a report has said.

Lewes Prison has been criticised for how it addressed self-harm and suicide training, less than a year after three men were found hanged.

On July 1, Colin Morton, of Manor Road, Hastings, was found hanged.

Just days earlier Morton, 69, had been convicted of 14 counts of sex offences against children in the 1970s and 1980s.

A few weeks later, Nathan Vaughan-Jones, 34, was discovered dead in the prison.

In March 2012 Vaughan-Jones had been jailed for 11 years after admitting manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

He stabbed his “controlling” stepfather Nigel Ross to death outside his home in South Chailey.

Three days after the death of Vaughan-Jones, ex-police officer Peter Foster, who murdered his partner Heather Cooper and dumped her body in woodland near Petworth, was also found dead in the prison.

Life sentence

Just weeks earlier the 36-year-old had admitted murder and perverting the cause of justice and had been handed a life sentence.

Tony Couchman, of Hastings, died in the prison in July 2010 after slashing his wrists. He was awaiting trial, having been charged with the murder of his daughter Victoria.

Now the Prisons Report, who carried out an unannounced visit to the jail, has said that Lewes Prison could improve.

Inspectors who visited the prison found a number of staff confessed they would not enter a cell to save a prisoner, even if they were dying.

Safety issues

Raising concerns about how the prison addressed suicide and self-harm, the report said: “This was further compounded by the reluctance of many staff we spoke with to enter a cell on their own during patrol states to preserve life.

“Staff cited security and their own safety as taking precedence, and appeared unaware of the necessity for risk assessment to inform such a decision.”

The report also highlighted that, despite the catalogue of recent tragedies, current training to deal with cases of self-harm was not good enough.

It said: “Too few staff had received recent refresher training in the self-harm monitoring procedure, and although the quality of documents we sampled was reasonable there were notable deficiencies.”

'Too many suicides'

The report also revealed that an average of more than seven people a month self-harm at the prison. Between May and October 2012, 44 cases of self-harm were reported, actually fewer than most prisons.

MP for Lewes Norman Baker said: “There have been too many suicides at Lewes Prison. It is always a concern when a suicide attempt is successful.

“It’s partly staffing numbers, but it is also practices in the prison. However, I am sure the prison governor has been working hard. There are good aspects to the prison.

“Some prisoners are teaching others to read and write, which gives prisoners a value – that is a brilliant scheme.”

'Generally safe'

Mark Gettleson, of prisoners’ charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Although inspectors found Lewes Prison to be ‘generally safe’, it is disturbing that three inmates had taken their lives since the previous inspection.

"Three self-inflicted deaths in prison are three too many.

“The number of people taking their own lives in custody across the country has fallen significantly in recent years – from 103 in the 12 months to September 2004 to 56 in the 12 months to September 2012.

“This is due in part to better staff training and greater awareness of the problems vulnerable people experience behind bars.

'Fresh training'

“Efforts must continue to ensure this trend is not reversed.

"It is essential that prison staff are regularly assessed and given fresh training so they are fully aware of procedures and have the skills they need to respond swiftly and effectively in an emergency.”

Chief inspector for prisons Nick Hardwick said: “Overall this is a good report. The progress we identified previously has been sustained, and the prison’s strengths, notably the safe and decent environment, continue.

“Lewes is generally a safe prison, although since we last inspected, three prisoners had tragically taken their own lives.

'Safe environment'

Recorded incidents, nevertheless, were low and self-harm prevention measures were adequate, although some aspects required attention.”

Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said: “I am pleased that the chief inspector recognises the progress that has been made at Lewes and the respectful and safe environment it provides for the prisoners it holds.”

The Argus called the prison and the Ministry of Justice, who did not respond.

Two-fifths of inmates spend day in cell

Inspectors condemned Lewes Prison for not making an effort to get inmates working.

The report revealed almost two-fifths of the prison population spent the working day in their cells.

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: “The lack of progress in getting prisoners into meaningful work is disappointing.

“The area of greatest concern remains the provision of purposeful activity. Time out of cell was limited and affected by the prison’s failure to deliver daily its own published timetable.

“We found just under two-fifths of the population locked up doing nothing during the working part of the day.

“This was in part due to the lack of activity for them, but was worsened, inexcusably, because not all the available activity places were used.

“The range of education was adequate but teaching needed improvement and there was too little vocational training. Much of the work on offer was mundane and menial.”

Mark Gettleson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is essential that people in Lewes Prison have more meaningful activities to do, as the public deserve better than to have them lying about in bed all day.

“Proper employment should be provided for all prisoners so they can use their time constructively and develop skills to prepare them for work on release.”


Lewes is a category B male prison which holds people mainly from Sussex.

It holds adult convicted criminals and suspects on remand for whom “the very highest conditions of security are not necessary, but for whom escape must be made very difficult”.

It was used as a young offenders’ prison during the 1940s and 1950s and briefly became a borstal.

It houses more than 740 prisoners. The majority of cells are shared but some are single.