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Autopsy found inmate died by suicide

Wendell “Woolly” Baxter died shortly after being jailed for 11 years at Westgate (File photograph)

A prison inmate died from “acute heart failure due to hanging” just days after being jailed for sex abuse crimes, according to an autopsy report.

Wendell “Woolly” 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 ten days after being incarcerated.

Baxter had been a well-respected footballer and coach. His victims included top footballing brothers Andrew and David Bascome, who came forward in 2016 about their ordeal.

The autopsy report, filed by Emyr Owen, was read out to a jury yesterday during an inquest into Baxter’s death.

Dr Owen noted that there were no traces of drugs or alcohol in Baxter’s system, and no sign of any injuries on his body.

He ruled that the cause of death was suicide by hanging, and attributed a lack of ligature marks on Baxter’s neck to him having used a soft fabric to hang himself and that he was suspended for only a short time.

Those findings backed up the testimony of a prison officer who witnessed the event while carrying out a regular cell inspection just before 11.30pm on July 1, 2017.

Jonathan James said that he approached Baxter’s cell and saw him standing on a chair with a sheet wrapped around his neck. Baxter jumped before Mr James had time to react.

Security camera footage showed Mr James head to the unit’s control room to raise the alarm and collect keys to Baxter’s cell before returning to the scene, where he released Baxter and began administering CPR.

Mr James told the inquest that he stopped after about one minute because Baxter was unresponsive.

Dr Owen’s report was one of a number of witness statements read out by police Sergeant Lyndon Raynor, the coroner’s officer, during yesterday’s proceedings.

Another prison officer, James Codrington, was monitoring CCTV cameras in a control centre on the night Baxter died.

He went to Baxter’s cell after being told that there had been “an incident” and that the prisoner had “tried to hang himself”.

In his statement, Mr Codrington said: “I checked his pulse, but there was no sign of life.”

Mr Codrington described Baxter as a “quiet” inmate who never mentioned being harassed by fellow prisoners.

A third prison officer, Herman Eve, did take the stand during yesterday’s hearing.

Mr Eve, a veteran of the prison service with more than 20 years of experience, was also monitoring surveillance cameras in one of Westgate’s control centres on the night Baxter died.

He confirmed that keys to cells in the maximum-security pod were kept in a ziplock bag in the wing’s control room — a practice that had not changed in years.

Questioned by Eugene Johnston, a lawyer with the Attorney-General’s Chambers who is representing the prison service, Mr Eve said that officers were trained in first aid and CPR. He added that he had completed several refresher courses during his time in the service, and that first aid boxes were located “everywhere” throughout the facility.

Mr Eve also said that officers were attuned to pick up on any mood swings or personality changes in inmates, which he said that was common among prisoners.

Pressed by Mr Johnston, Mr Eve said that officers were instructed to contact a superior even if they had only “a hunch” that an inmate was suicidal.

But he maintained that Baxter was not considered a suicide risk and there were no plans to move him to a segregation unit.

Elizabeth Christopher, who represented Baxter at his sentencing and is now representing his family, asked Mr Eve if it was protocol for a medical officer to be on call at night.

Mr Eve replied: “I have no clue.”

Further statements from prison officers were read to the jury later in the afternoon.

Brian Sentre wrote in his report that he saw Baxter during his nightly patrol around the prison wing.

He said that Baxter was silent and facing his desk, and that he nodded when he saw Mr Sentre.

The court heard that Mr Sentre completed his patrol after 15 minutes and went to the mess hall to watch television.

But Mr Sentre wrote that a colleague later found him and said “Baxter tried to hang himself”.

He added that, on his way to the cell, he overheard another prison officer say “someone call an ambulance, it’s not looking good”.

Donna Hanely, another corrections officer, said that she was also called to Baxter’s cell after he was found unresponsive.

She wrote in her report that she saw Baxter on his back with his head towards the cell door and his feet facing the parallel window.

Ms Hanely said that she also saw Mr James, who appeared “visibly shaken”.

When asked what had happened, he said: “I did all I could, but he just did it. I did CPR and everything. I did all I could.”

Ms Hanely said that she removed Mr James from the scene because of his state.

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

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