Depressed woman prison officer found hanged in her Bedford home

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A woman prisoner officer who was found hanged at her home claimed she had been sexually assaulted by a senior colleague.

Kelly Hewitt, 24, told workmates at a Christmas party that she had been attacked in her Bedford home, but refused to give her boss at Bedford prison any details, an inquest heard on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

At the time she was convinced the governor of the jail wanted her out as she and two colleagues were being investigated for a “control and restraint incident” on a prisoner in D-wing at the jail.

The deputy governor at the time Naz Nicholson told the hearing in Milton Keynes that she had been informed that Kelly said a senior officer had sexually assaulted her in her home.

She said she spoke to Kelly on December 17, 2018 saying: “She would not give me any information and would not confirm she had mentioned his name (to somebody else). She gave no dates or times or details of what the sexual assault was,” she said.

She said Kelly declined to contact the police or report the claim to the prison’s internal corruption reporting system. The allegation was investigated by the police, she said.

Asked by Milton Keynes Senior Coroner Tom Osborne what happened to the two other officers investigated for the control and restraint incident which happened on November 25, 2018. She said one was dismissed and the other was given a two-year final warning.

Ms Nicholson said Kelly had been regarded as a “complex case”. The prison learned she had self-harmed in September and there were concerns around her mental health. She was not suspended (as the other officers were) but was put on non-prison facing duties in the offender management unit.

Kelly was found by relatives hanging in the doorway of her rented home in Appledine Way, Bedford early on December 18, 2018.

The cause of death was 1a asphyxia and 1b hanging. A letter left on the sofa referred to a sexual assault.

In a statement read by the coroner her cousin Jake Westley said he and two of her friends were concerned about her and went to check on the evening of Tuesday, December 7.

He said: “We tried to explain although she was depressed she had a lot to live for. She explained said she had been sexually assaulted by another prison officer and said I was not to tell anyone. She said he had children and did not want them to grow up without a father.”

Mr Westley, then 23, said she was adamant she would not do anything stupid, but they were uneasy as they drove away that night back to Wellingborough. He told his parents, her aunt and uncle, and the three of them went back to Bedford where they found Kelly.

He said: “Looking back at events I had no idea how bad Kelly was feeling.”

Dr Thilaka Ratnayake, of the East London NHS Foundation Trust, said he had been treating her for depression since September 2018 when she had taken an overdose of medication. She had been involved in a car accident in June that year and her mood had dropped, he said.

He said: “She said she had a good family relationship and did not want the information concerning her passed on to them.”

She was discharged from their care on October 8, and was assessed as having a low risk of self-harm.

The coroner heard from Adrian Smith who carried out a review at Bedford prison after Kelly Hewitt’s death.

Mr Smith said at the time Kelly died it was the view of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and also his view, that at the time Kelly died the prison had problems. “Bedford was not performing well. There was a short in staff numbers and a shortage of managers. There was a lack of experience.”

He said Kelly, who had been a prison officer for four years, had five different line managers.

“That was more than there normally would be. The first three were complimentary (about Kelly), the fourth was less so and the fifth thought she had potential, but it was not realised because of her mental health at the time and the way she was behaving.”

Mr Smith was asked by the coroner if staff were “tip-toeing” around her. He replied: Yes I think that is true. My feeling is there was a real desire to do the best thing but people did not know what the best thing was.

“It all seemed to get too much for her. She ws not thinking straight.”

After Kelly’s death her father John, from Wellingborough raised £80,000 on a 12 team cycle ride from John O’Groats to Lands End. The money was for a a charity called: “We mind and Kelly matters” to raise money for the mental health charities Mind and Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide.”

The inquest will continue tomorrow