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Prison officers saw no ‘triggers’ before death of inmate

Wendell “Woolly” Baxter died days after being sentenced to 11 years behind bars at Westgate (File photograph)

An inquest into the death of an inmate at Westgate days after he was jailed heard that court-ordered psychological reports were not passed on to corrections officers.

Dwight Richards, the Acting Assistant Commissioner, said he understood that psychological reports are sometimes produced in advance of sentencing. He had not seen such reports handed over during the intake process.

“I have never received that,” Mr Richards said.

He told the jury that as part of the prison intake process, inmates undergo a medical evaluation, but accepted that the process did not include a psychiatrist.

Mr Richards said that officers will make observations about the inmate’s demeanour, including if they appear to be hostile, and any concerns about self-harm are written up and passed along to the medical team.

“The only way we can know if someone is suicidal is if they voice it, if they do something to themselves or if you get a phone call saying that they have told someone else they are suicidal,” he said.

“There can be some triggers, things that we may see that give us concerns.”

Mr Richards explained what some triggers might be and said that there had been incidents in which the prison was informed that the inmate had attempted suicide or self-harm while in police custody, and on other occasions the prison had been contacted by family members of the inmate about concerns.

He went on to confirm that he had not personally seen or heard any “triggers” that would have sparked suicide-prevention measures in the case of Wendell “Woolly” Baxter.

Baxter was sentenced to 11 years at Westgate Correctional Facility in June 2017 after pleading guilty to a string of sex offences against young boys over several decades.

He died in his maximum-security prison cell on July 1, 2017, ten days after being incarcerated, with an autopsy determining the cause of death as suicide by hanging.

Baxter had been a well-respected footballer and coach.

As the inquest continued yesterday, prisons officer Sabrina Bourne told the court that she had limited interactions with Baxter during his time in custody, but she had spoken to him.

“He was quite friendly,” she said. “He engaged with us. He was a friendly type of individual that I was able to have conversations with.”

Ms Bourne recalled that during one brief conversation Baxter “seemed low” and had mentioned that he had not had any religious visits.

“I was trying to encourage him to keep his head up,” she said. “I was trying to encourage him to keep on being positive.

“He showed no intentions of any self-harm. I didn’t feel any concern.”

She told the inquest that she subsequently spoke with the prison pastor and encouraged him to see Baxter.

The inquest, before Aura Cassidy, the coroner, continues.

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