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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 09:12 GMT


Health

Prison deaths inquiry begins

The inquiry will investigate methodone prescribing in prison

A prison doctor is facing charges of serious professional misconduct after three inmates died in his care.

The case against Dr Archibald Alexander began on Monday before the General Medical Council - doctors' regulatory body.

Dr Alexander, who did not attend because of illness, is accused of prescribing lethal doses of methadone, the heroin substitute, to two inmates at Brixton Prison in 1994 and of neglect over the suicide of another prisoner the same year.

Carl Owens and David Davies, both aged 22, died of fatal overdoses in May and September 1994 respectively.

Owens had a heart attack after taking a methadone overdose. He fell into a coma and died.

Davies died of an overdose on the day he was due to be released after serving a seven-day sentence for non-payment of an 85 fine.

Dr Alexander gave both Owens and Davies 50ml of methadone and a twice-daily dose of valium.

Suicide

Kirk Chean, 29, hung himself in June 1994 on the day he was transferred from an isolation cell to an ordinary cell.

The transfer was on allegedly ordered by Dr Alexander who is said to have disagreed with other doctors and decided not to put him on suicide watch.

Chean had tried to commit suicide in November 1993.

Michael Mansfield QC, representing the families, said Dr Alexander's decisions in treating the men had been "palpably" irresponsible.

He said Dr Alexander, who is retired and suffers from Parkison's Disease, should have done more research into checking the medical histories of the inmates from information that was readily and easily available to him.

He said that Dr Alexander had "failed miserably" because he did not double check whether Owens and Davies had a history of drug abuse which was not revealed in their medical records.

Both reportedly admitted to a history of drug use in order to get methadone to relieve the gloom of prison life.

Mr Mansfield said: "Prison officials had become blase - as long as the individuals said they were addicts, then that will do."

He added that Dr Alexander should have paid more attention to whether the inmates exhibited any of the signs and symptoms of withdrawal.

Owens and Davies were not the only drug users to die in Dr Alexander's care in 1994.

At the inquest of inmate David Wilkins in July 1994, the coroner recommended a review the prescription of drugs at the prison.

Dr Alexander denies the charges. He could be banned from working as a doctor if found guilty.

The inquiry is expected to last two weeks.

David Davies' family called for a full inquiry into his death.



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