Serco has been fined more than £2m for health and safety failures that led to a mentally ill prisoner kicking a custody officer to death.
Humphrey Burke, 29, attacked Lorraine Barwell, 54, as she tried to escort him from his cell in Blackfriars crown court in London in June 2015. Burke was due to be sentenced for arson and attempted robbery.
In January 2022 Burke admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility and was handed an indefinite hospital order at the Old Bailey.
Barwell’s employer, Serco – which is contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide security services in courts – pleaded guilty last April to failure to discharge general health, safety and welfare duty from January 2014 to March 2017.
The prosecution claimed that two attacks on custody officers – Barwell and Bernadette Cawley – within that period demonstrated what could happen if the right health and safety steps were not taken.
Cawley, who survived the attack, was strangled and rammed up against a wall in the dock in an annex court at Woolwich crown court in June 2016. She pressed an alarm but no other custody staff were nearby to help.
The Ministry of Justice said that Barwell was believed to be the first prison custody officer to be killed on duty. She had worked for the security contractor for more than 10 years.
While Serco had admitted two limited breaches in relation to the two incidents at Blackfriars and Woolwich, they denied they were the cause of the harm to the women. The prosecution had alleged there were wider failings, with areas including risk assessment, staffing levels, training and monitoring.
On Friday, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker fined Serco £2,250,000 and ordered the firm to pay the Health and Safety Executive costs of £433,596.
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