Prison failures over fire death

John Raymond Cann
John Raymond Cann

THE family of a prisoner who died after starting a fire in his cell hope lessons will be learned after fire chiefs identified a series of failures.

Hartlepool man John Raymond Cann barricaded his cell door and set light to furniture at Holme House Prison.

Mr Cann, 51, later died after being overcome by the smoke, an inquest found.

But his family believe he could have been saved after delays meant he was not pulled from his cell until 23 minutes after the fire started.

An investigation by fire chiefs found serious failures including:

*The cell’s fire detector failed to work

*The wrong kind of alarm was sounded first by the prison

*Delays in getting an anti-barricade key to open the cell door

*Officers could not open a hole in the cell door to fight the fire

*Arrangements for providing a clear path for he fire service were not put into action

*Wide confusion among officers due to heavy smoke logging

Mr Cann, who was sent to the cell for being disruptive, started the fire with a cigarette lighter he had been given by prison staff.

He was not pulled from the cell until 23 minutes after smoke was first seen coming from under the door.

Mr Cann’s brother-in-law John McLean, 60, said: “Nobody could survive in a smoke filled room for 23 minutes.

“If they got the keys straightaway, within the first five or six minutes they probably would have got him out.

“They actually put him in a cell knowing he was being disruptive and didn’t take the lighter off him.

“They weren’t geared up for it.

“We wouldn’t like to think it would happen again. We hope they learn some lessons.”

Mr Cann, of Whitby Walk, Hartlepool, arrived at Holme House Prison in Stockton on October 31, 2011, having been remanded on criminal damage charges and breaking previous bail conditions.

His disruptive behaviour meant his assessment on arrival could not be completed until two days later after he had been given smoking materials.

A report by the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser (CFRA), now Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire Services, found there were delays in prison staff getting an anti-barricade key needed to open the cell door.

It stated: “It was identified that the officer who held the key to the key press containing the anti-barricade key had accompanied the other prisoners from the wing who had been evacuated to the prison gym.”

The report added that instead of the prison fire alarm being sounded, a general alarm was activated.

And the cell’s inudation port, a hole through which a nozzle can be pushed, had seized up.

Mr Cann was resuscitated after being removed from the cell, but he died in hospital the following day.

A jury at an inquest recorded a verdict of accidental death and that Mr Cann died from breathing in smoke.

His girlfriend of 15 years, Angela Hurst, said: “He didn’t mean to kill himself, it was just to get attention for medication.

“John would do anything for anybody. He was loveable, and everybody around here liked him.”

A spokesman for the Prison Service said: “There were delays gaining access to Mr Cann’s cell on the day of the fire but the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman found that it was hard to see what more staff could have done to save Mr Cann.”