A prison helped pay for the funeral of a convicted paedophile who died two years after he was jailed for molesting three girls he had plied with alcohol, it has emerged.
Gerald Coppel, described as ‘dangerous’ by police, was jailed in March 2020 but his health deteriorated while incarcerated at Forest Bank prison Salford and he died at Salford Royal Hospital on February 4, 2022. He was 73.
Now a report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, which criticised the record-keeping of the medics who cared for him behind bars, has revealed the prison helped pay for the funeral, which took place three weeks after his death.
The report, which also revealed Coppel was the seventh prisoner to die at Forest Bank since February 2020, said the jail made a financial contribution to the funeral cost ‘in line with policy’.
The prison has come under fire after a Manchester Evening News investigation revealed allegations of widespread drug use and inmates who ‘run the wings’, leading to calls for the government to cancel a billion-pound contract it has with facilities giant Sodexo to run the jail and bring it into state control.
The month before his death, the inmate, who had refused to undergo surgery, collapsed in his cell and was taken by ambulance to hospital. When his health deteriorated his next of kin – his brother – was called. A post-mortem report concluded Coppel died of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.
The ombudsman’s report said: “The hospital rang Mr Coppel’s brother to tell him Mr Coppel had died. Later that morning, the family liaison officer rang Mr Coppel’s brother to offer his condolences and to discuss funeral arrangements and his property being returned to the family. Over the following days, the prison’s family liaison officer provided support and information to Mr Coppel’s family. Mr Coppel’s funeral was held on 28 February 2022. In line with policy, the prison made a financial contribution to the cost of the funeral.”
Parliament confirmed in 2015 that prisons ‘must offer to pay a contribution to funeral expenses of up to £3,000’ as long as there is no pre-paid funeral plan. Any money is paid to a funeral director rather than surviving family.
HMP Forest Bank in Salford
When he was jailed in 2020, the M.E.N. reported how the abuse committed by Coppel had ‘cast shade’ over his victims’ childhoods. He was handed a 14-year prison term after plying three girls with alcohol before exposing himself and abusing them, although the sentence was reduced to nine years and five months on appeal. He pleaded guilty to 19 counts of indecent assault committed in south Manchester.
Coppel had been cared for in Forest Bank’s 19-bed inpatient healthcare unit which at the time was in-house, where record-keeping was criticised in the ombudsman’s report. It is understood the healthcare provider is now NHS commissioned across three separate providers.
Around the time of his death, a separate report by the prison’s inspectorate reported that health services at HMP Forest Bank were generally well led but the applications process was ‘not efficient enough’ and triage arrangements were ‘not consistent’, although a ‘good range’ of health services was available and waiting times for clinics were ‘reasonable’.
A report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Kimberley Bingham, published this month said before he was jailed Coppel had been diagnosed with an ‘abdominal aortic aneurysm’, a bulge in the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and stomach. He was also suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, liver failure, asthma and damage to the nerves of his hands and feet.
A year after he was incarcerated, he was warned he may need surgery after a hospital scan revealed the aneurism was continuing to grow and that there was a risk of rupture.
A prison nurse met Coppel on June 11, 2021, to discuss surgery but he said he didn’t want surgery as he believed it would further risk his deteriorating health, according to the report.
A prison GP saw Coppel on November 8 and the inmate repeated he didn’t want surgery but on January 10 of the following year he told a member of prison staff he had vomited and passed black liquid during a bowel movement, said the report. The next day the prison GP made a referral for cancer treatment.
On January 24, 2022, Coppel told prison nurses he had been feeling ‘fuzzy’ but they did not ‘complete or record any clinical observations’, said the ombudsman. A nurse took a set of clinical observations that night but did not score his deterioration, according to the report. It was only later that evening that the prisoner was properly scored using the National Early Warning Score, known as NEWS2, and it indicated he should be reviewed regularly.
When a nurse looked through his cell window at 3.30am on January 26, Coppel had collapsed on the floor and it was decided he should be reviewed ‘frequently’ rather than regularly. By 4am he was on the floor again and he was helped back into his bed.
By 8am he was seen slumped in his chair although he was ‘responsive’, and an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital. Coppel again declined treatment even though his aneurism was leaking and by February 3 he was placed on ‘palliative’ end-of-life care. Arrangements were made for his brother – his next of kin – to visit him in hospital.
Prison staff who were at his bedside noticed that he struggled to return to his bed after a visit to the toilet at 2am on February 4. He said he was ‘alright’ but then did not respond to further questions, according to the report. Later Coppel vomited ‘significant amounts of blood’ and despite the prison officer running to summon medical help he was pronounced dead at 2.35am.
The ombudsman commissioned a clinical reviewer who concluded the care Coppel received at Forest bank was ‘equivalent to that which he could have expected to receive in the community’ and that the ‘appropriate care and treatment’ was offered to him. However, the report criticised prison nurses for failing to record clinical observations and score his clinical deterioration on January 24 and 25. A nurse also failed to record the time he conducted a review of Coppel on January 26, according to the report.
The report recommended the prison’s head of healthcare ‘should ensure that staff complete and record clinical observations for all prisoners with long-term conditions who report symptoms that may indicate clinical deterioration and complete a NEWS2 score’. It also said the head of healthcare should ensure staff record the time of any contact with a prisoner on clinical records.
A spokesperson for HMP Forest Bank said: “Our thoughts remain with the family of Mr Coppel. We cooperated fully with the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s review and noted that the report states the standard of care at HMP Forest Bank was equivalent to that which he could have expected to receive in the community.
“We accepted the recommendations made in the report and are working together to implement the agreed actions.”