Liam Lawson, aged 28 years old, was discovered slumped at his desk in his cell on G wing at Hull Prison on October 28, 2019. There was a hand written note nearby which described how he had been feeling unwell.
Following a two-day inquest in Hull, the jury of 12 people decided there was nothing suspicious about Liam’s death and neither was there evidence it was suicide. The inquest previously heard from forensic pathologist Dr Michael Parsons who conceded he could not say exactly what cause the 28-year-old’s death.
But his family also said Liam seemed tired and under the weather in the weeks before his death and told them he had trouble sleeping after taking on three jobs at the prison but didn’t want to drop them and lose his privileges.
Concerns were raised over the non-prescribed painkillers and epilepsy drugs found in Liam’s system. The family’s representative suggested Liam many not have sort medical help for fear he would be disciplined.
The inquest heard that there had been a problem with prescribed medication being sold, given away or stolen among prisoners when Liam was in Hull Prison. This issue was raised by the Prison Ombudsman in a report following an investigation into Liam’s death. Gary Sword, head of residency and safety, told the inquest major improvements had since been made.
He said: “In 2018-19 there were a total of 511 incidents when prisoners were found under the influence of illicit drugs. That dropped to 370 in 2019-20, then dropped to 98 in 2020-21 and in 2021-22 it has fallen further to 32.”
Mr Sword also told the inquest there have been improvements made regarding the dispensing and control of prescribed medication.
He said: “Each cell now has a medication safe with the prisoner given a combination number to open it. In some cases the medication is taken by the prisoner while under supervision to ensure it is taken. As a result of Liam’s death we now have weekly task meetings regarding prisoners misusing prescribed drugs so we can proactively tackle the issue.”
Prison officer Aaron Middlehurst gave evidence at the inquest and described how he found Liam in his cell that day. He explained how Liam was upbeat on the day he died after learning his sentence for arson maybe reduced.
Mr Middlehurst said: “Liam was a trusted prisoner and was a wing worker. That meant he would welcome new prisoners and show them the ropes.
“On the day he died he was upbeat. He said he was hoping his sentence would be reduced due to changes in the law around arson and that the intent to endanger life might be removed meaning he could be out in a few months.”
After unlocking the cells, a prisoner alerted Mr Middlehurst to a problem with Liam. He found Liam unresponsive and put him in the recovery position and medical help was called but he sadly died. One of Liam’s fellow prisoners told the inquest how Liam seemed out of sorts that day.
He said: “I knew Liam quite well and we were neighbours on the wing. He was a decent person. People cope in different ways with prison. Liam did suffer anxiety from time to time but he never let it get the better of him. It was just there in the background. “I spoke to him briefly that morning and he seemed a little out of sorts and was not feeling particularly great. I told him he should seek some medical help.”
Dr Parsons told the inquest there was no evidence of trauma or any drugs or other substances in his system to explain his death. He concluded the medical cause of death was natural causes but could not say exactly how he died. He did note Liam previously complained of a racing heart, sweating and feeling light headed.
He said: “While his death is natural the exact 6 mechanism for that is best described as unascertained.” Dr Parsons was concerned there may have been some underlying but undetected heart condition and he even took the step of warning Lim’s family to get tested for such a condition but these thankfully proved negative
Although the exact medical reason for Liam’s death will never be known the jury decided they were able to return a conclusion of natural causes rather than an open conclusion.
Liam had been handed a five-year sentence in May 2019 year for arson with intent to danger life after setting fire to a plastic crate outside his neighbour’s door in Beverley Road on February 2, 2019. The family of Liam, who were unable to attend the hearing, wrote an emotional tribute which was read out at the inquest.
It said: “Liam was extremely intelligent and loved sports. His humour was unique and he made everyone laugh. He also loved nature and would often go out on walks with his nan who he was very close to.
“He gained many awards including in football and karate. He was a black belt in karate by age 11. He was also into technology and built his own computers. 6, Liam was kind-hearted, generous and helpful, We miss him enormously every day. He will always bein our hearts. We are devastated and there is no greater tragedy than to lose your child. Our lives have changed forever”.
Despite attempts by prison staff and paramedics, Liam was pronounced dead. May his soul rest in perfect peace.