A jury has returned a verdict of death by misadventure following a three-day inquest into the death of Nariman Tahmasebi, a 27-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who was found hanged in Lewes prison in February 2002.
Nariman Tahmasebi fled to the UK following a period of detention in Iran for his political beliefs. Refused asylum in this country and fearful of being deported back to Iran, he attempted to flee to Canada using the same forged travel documents that had brought him here. He was arrested at Gatwick airport, charged over false documents and sentenced to six months imprisonment.
He arrived at Lewes prison in East Sussex on 14 February 2002; less than a week later on the 20th he hanged himself from the bars of his cell with a bedsheet.
The jury heard that in the few days he spent in Lewes prison, Nariman was interviewed three times by prison staff; a risk assessment at the first night centre, an induction interview the following day at the induction centre, and finally a healthcare interview conducted by a healthcare officer. Although Nariman had limited English, no interpreters were available and the interviews were all conducted in English.
All three officers who interviewed him considered that he wasn’t at any risk of self-harm, even though Nariman told them that he had taken an overdose in Iran after he had been beaten by prison guards while in detention there. When asked if he would contemplate harming himself, he said only if he was to be returned to Iran. As a failed asylum seeker, he would have been liable to deportation at the end of his sentence.
Nariman was then placed in a single cell where he was found hanging the following night. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful, and he died in hospital five days later without regaining consciousness.
The inquest was attended by Nariman’s elder brother Sam, 32. His parents had also intended to come over from Iran, but were too distraught and decided instead, that they would come to visit their son’s grave on his birthday.
Speaking through an interpreter, Sam said that his brother had come to this country seeking freedom of expression, freedom to live the way he wanted, but he couldn’t find it here. ‘When he told us that he wanted to come to this country we couldn’t have believed that such a thing could happen to Nariman in Britain, which is known to all as a civilized country.’ Sam said that he was disappointed by the verdict. ‘There are still too many questions without answers’, he said.
There were three deaths in Lewes prison in 2002, and three in 2001. Three of these six deaths were of foreign nationals with English as a second language.