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Serco fined £2.25m after custody officer killed by prisoner

Custody officer Lorraine Barwell was kicked to death by a prisoner she was escorting.

Image source, PA

Security contractor Serco has been fined £2.25m for health and safety failings that led to a prisoner kicking one of its custody officers to death.

Lorraine Barwell, 54, was killed in the summer of 2015 by Humphrey Burke, now 28, a prisoner she was escorting.

The day she was attacked, Burke was due to be sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court for arson and attempted robbery.

In January, he was given an indefinite hospital order for manslaughter by diminished responsibility.

At the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker also ordered Serco to pay the Health and Safety Executive’s costs of £433,596.

Sentencing the firm, he said: “I am satisfied that had it not been for Serco’s breach of duty towards its employees, Lorraine Barwell would not have died in the circumstances in which she did.”

‘Wonderful, loving’

Serco is contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide security services in courts. Ms Barwell, who had worked for the security firm for more than 10 years, is believed to be the first prison custody officer to be killed on duty, the Ministry of Justice said.

Serco pleaded guilty last April to failing to discharge general health, safety and welfare duties from January 2014 to March 2017.

Following the sentencing hearing, Anthony Kirby from Serco said: “We continuously strive to seek to ensure such an incident can never happen again.”

In a victim impact statement, Ms Barwell’s daughter Louise Grennan said her mother was “wonderful, loving” and “supportive”.

“We spoke about plans to move abroad to live in the sun once mum had retired from work. That has all gone now,” she said.

The prosecution alleged that two attacks on custody officers within the January 2014 to March 2017 period – one on Ms Barwell and another on Bernadette Cawley – demonstrated what could happen if the right health and safety steps were not taken.

Ms Cawley, who survived the attack on her, was throttled and rammed up against a wall in the dock in an annex court at Woolwich Crown Court in June 2016, but no other custody staff were nearby to help when she pressed the alarm.

Image source, Metropolitan Police

Serco admitted two limited breaches in relation to the attacks on its staff at Blackfriars and Woolwich, but denied its actions directly led to the the two women being harmed.

The prosecution alleged there were wider failings in areas including risk assessment, staffing levels, training and monitoring.

‘Obvious and avoidable risk’

In his sentencing, the senior judge found Serco’s level of culpability for the offence was “high”.

Among the failings, he said there was “insufficient” availability of court custody officers, an issue that had been raised with management “on numerous occasions”.

Mr Justice Baker added there had been an “obvious and avoidable” risk posed to Ms Barwell by Burke.

Helen Donnelly from the Health and Safety Executive said: “Serco drastically failed in their duties to protect both Lorraine Barwell and other staff over a sustained period.

“Had Serco carried out their legal duties, these incidents could have been prevented.

“We will not hesitate to act against those who fail to protect their workers.”

Mr Kirby, from Serco, added: “The safety and wellbeing of colleagues is our highest priority and, as recognised by the court, we have improved our safety processes.”

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