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Ministry had warned of suicide risk in cell where British tourist died

Source: El Pais - Mon 23rd Nov 2015
Ministry had warned of suicide risk in cell where British tourist died

Antony Abbott, a 36-year-old Briton, died on February 23 just half-an-hour after being placed in a police cell with no surveillance cameras in the resort town of Benidorm, after being arrested at the Palm Beach Hotel for disturbing the peace.

"The police told me that my husband died after hanging himself with a blanket," his widow, 28-year-old Catherine Corless, told EL PAÍS. The couple had two children, aged seven and eight.

The family of the Bolton native say there is an investigation into his death open in the UK, where a crowdfunding drive has so far raised €7,000 to pay for a lawyer in Spain.

Corless says that Abbott's head was bruised when she was asked to come in and identify the body, and claims that he was arrested simply for being rowdy.

An Interior Ministry report, drafted 15 months before the incident and to which EL PAÍS has had access, called for suicide-prevention measures to be implemented at the Benidorm precinct.

The 113-page document alerted about the risk of detainees taking their own lives at the National Police headquarters, which has seven cells with a capacity for 12 people. The report was commissioned after a failed suicide attempt inside the same premises in March 2014, when a detainee tried to take his own life using a blanket strip as a noose, and was rushed to the hospital in Vila Joiosa. This particular suspect was inside a cell that's located in a blind spot for surveillance cameras.

In the wake of the incident, the document encouraged the installation of new surveillance cameras and buzzers for prisoners, among other measures. There was also a call for new cell doors to be installed, to avoid "strips of blankets or other elements that could be used for suicide attempts by hanging" from being tied to their structure.

The document also details the difficulties of being able to monitor all 12 spaces in the cells. The only camera installed there does not allow for a panoramic view of the cells, the document reads. "It was also established that the audio system did not work," it adds.

The report also noted that there is no permanent police presence near the cells, and that detainees have to scream to make themselves heard by officers, as they are located on different floors.

The report details how the safety of the Benidorm precinct worsened after refurbishment work was carried out there in November 2013. "Before the work [...] the detainees would stick their hands out through the bars and they could be seen by the cameras. This can no longer happen given that, with the system of doors and bars, there is no space."

The report concludes that cameras should be installed to cover the blind spots in the cells.

While the Interior Ministry claims that "all of the failures in the report were repaired," the Benidorm Federal Police Union denies that this took place.

"We just don't understand why Antony Abbott was arrested and died," said the family's spokeswoman in Spain.

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