THE ‘incomprehensible and devastating’ death of a teenager who took her own life in prison could have been prevented, says her family.

Today, Friday, an inquest jury in Warrington concluded that Annelise Sanderson, aged 18, died from suicide and noted there were some failings in her care.

But Victoria Davies, area coroner for Cheshire, said she would not be writing a report to prevent future deaths as she felt reassured the various organisations involved had introduced new processes and ‘tightened up’ existing procedures.

Annelise was sentenced in June 2020 to 52 weeks in custody after she assaulted a paramedic who went to her aid when she tried to set herself on fire at a petrol station.

Six months later on December 22, Annelise was pronounced dead in her cell at HMP Styal only weeks before she was due to be released.

A safety plan was put in place three days into her custodial term when she was identified as at risk of suicide or self-harm.

Annelise, who also had alcohol and drug issues, was recorded as displaying ‘bizarre behaviour’ when she arrived on June 26 at HMP Styal, when strict Covid-19 restrictions were in place.

The plan was closed eight days later after it was noted that Annelise , from Runcorn, appeared ‘settled’, the court heard.

Mental health nurses noted she ‘engaged very, very well’ at her first proper face-to-face assessment in August as Annelise spoke of goals she wanted to achieve when leaving custody.

She was discharged from the mental health team on December 17, three days before her death.

The teenager was initially due to be released on Christmas Eve but had four weeks added to her sentence for a separate matter.

Annelise told staff she was ‘not bothered’ about the delay and said: “It is what it is and I just have to get on with it”.

The inquest heard that Annelise became upset on December 21 following a row on the phone with her girlfriend.

But former inmate Kerry Burgin said Annelise later asked her to practice a dance routine they were due to perform on Boxing Day.

She told the court Annelise was the ‘life and soul of their dormitory’ and that her death was a ‘complete shock’.

Noting the circumstances of her death, the jury stated: “It is worth noting that the coronavirus pandemic was prevalent during the entirety of Annelise’s time at HMP.

“This impacted a number of procedures and activities.

Northwich Guardian: Annelise Sanderson died at HM Prison StyalAnnelise Sanderson died at HM Prison Styal (Image: Google Maps)

“There appears to be a lack of communication, accessibility and recording of records.”

Since Annelise’s death, the mental health budget for HMP Styal had tripled to £1.5 million, Cheshire Coroner’s Court heard.

Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust had also introduced a new key worker system which includes weekly welfare checks for more complex prisoners.

A senior psychologist now worked two a week at the prison while the waiting list for GP appointments had significantly reduced, the court was told.

Coroner Davies said: “I am reassured since Annelise’s death that organisations have put in place new processes and tightened up those that were already in existence.

“This was a tragic loss of a young life, of someone who was determined to stay out of prison forever when she got out and was hopeful for the future.

“My sincere hope is that future prisoners will be better supported.”

Annelise’s death is one of 11 self-inflicted deaths at the prison since 2007 – more than any other women’s prison in England, and she is the youngest person to have died in a women’s prison in 20 years.

A passionate, loving and forgiving person, her family said she cherished the relationships of those to whom she was closest.

Following the inquest, her mother Angela Gray said: “Annelise was a loving daughter, sister, niece, aunt and friend. She was bright, and cheeky, and complicated. She liked to make people laugh.

“But she was also a vulnerable person who faced serious difficulties with her mental health. When she entered HMP Styal, she had only just turned 18, and you could tell from just looking at her she was still a child.

“Her death has been incomprehensible and devastating, and we think it could have been prevented.

“Over the course of this week we have seen for ourselves how Annelise was treated in prison; she was just another number to them.

“She fell through the cracks despite asking for help from people who should have kept her safe. The past few days have been painful and enraging.

“We thank the jury for the attention they have given Annelise’s case and for recognising that there were failures in her care.

“Annelise was a special person, but in her fate she is not unique. Since her death, three more women have died in Styal.

“Our condolences go out to their families. Styal was not a safe place for Annelise, and we feel it is not a safe place for vulnerable women now.”

Northwich Guardian: Annelise Sanderson died at HM Prison StyalAnnelise Sanderson died at HM Prison Styal (Image: Prison Service)

Deborah Coles, director at the charity INQUEST, added: “What do we do in response to young women in obvious need of care and support? We cannot keep locking them up to die.

“Annelise had a history of trauma, and the mental ill health that often accompanies this. She deserved our understanding, care and support.

“Instead, she was viewed as a discipline and control problem by our public services. The fundamental question for all of us, is why was she sent to prison in the first place?

“Deaths in Styal prison are at a record high and two self-inflicted deaths in December raise serious renewed questions about women’s health and safety.

“How many deaths must it take before the Government finally takes action and ends the needless imprisonment of women to save lives?”

If you have been affected by this story and would like to talk to someone then call Samaritans for free from any phone on 116123.

Alternatively Papyrus, dedicated to helping people under 35 at risk of suicide, via its HopelineUK service.

Visit papyrus-uk.org/hopelineuk/ or call 0800 068 4141, text 07786209697 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org