Jail fall victim waits on damages
Family’s court fight for heroin user who suffered catastrophic brain injury
PROBLEMS besetting singer Amy Winehouse are the same which her neighbour faced more than 11 years ago, a High Court judge said. Lord Justice Ward heard in London’s Court of Appeal that Ryan St George became a prison inmate after abusing drink and drugs.
There was laughter when the judge said “it seems to be affecting Amy Winehouse, but not to the same degree”.
Mr St George, then 29, suffered catastrophic brain damage in November 1997, five days after being admitted to Brixton prison to serve four months for shoplifting.
A heroin user who had epilepsy, he lived in Camden where he is now being cared for around the clock, unable to talk, eat or walk unaided.
Expert evidence in the High Court last October described Mr St George’s condition as “unique” and medics had never encountered such brain devastation in a survivor.
A judge ruled in favour of the patient in his action against the Home Office for breach of care.
The ruling was particularly critical of prison staff for delaying care to Mr St George and for not administering proper emergency treatment after discovering him “fitting”.
The St George family were expecting to be awarded compensation for Ryan’s care running into millions of pounds. The case had been brought on Ryan’s behalf by his father, David St George, a crime journalist. But on the last day available, Home Office lawyers moved for appeal.
In a two-day hearing that ended yesterday (Wednesday), the court heard Ryan St George fell eight feet from the top bed bunk, hitting his head on the floor and was later found by prison staff. His fall was caused by a seizure after he experienced withdrawal symptoms having gone five days without heroin.
Ambulance staff found him on the verge of death in his cell. Starved of oxygen his face had turned purple and his heart was racing.
Prison staff had been warned that Mr St George was prone to drug seizures and had epilepsy. His barrister David Pittaway QC had argued the prison was responsible for his brain damage for wrongly putting him on the top bunk and that the prison medical officers were inept in failing to clear his airways before the ambulance team arrived. He said lack of oxygen to the brain, caused by inept care from the prison’s medical team, caused the irreparable brain damage. He said the fall from the bunk had triggered the fit.
The Home Office QC Michael Kent argued Mr St George’s brain damage was caused by the original seizure brought about by drug addiction.
The question of “contributory negligence” was raised in the High Court yesterday (Wednesday). The Home Office had argued Mr St George could be to blame for his own brain damage because he wilfully pursued an addiction to heroin. But Mr Pittaway said: “Mr St George’s history of abuse was circumstance and not a cause of the damage that occurred.”
After 11 years fighting the case Mr St George’s family face more months of uncertainty until the judgment is expected to be released.