Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

In solidarity with the UFFC March: The inquest of Sarah Reed

Saturday, October 28, 2017

CW: Police brutality, sexual violence, state violence, mental health

The United Families and Friends Campaign made their annual memorial procession through the streets of London today, the 28th of October. On this day, and every day, Sisters Uncut stand with UFFC to remember all those who lost their lives at the hands of the state; inside prison cells or detention, in police vans, or simply on their way to the local corner shop.

We understand that many of those frequently affected by police brutality in the UK and globally are black men and other men of colour. It is often our most vulnerable and oppressed men: migrants, those experiencing mental health issues and those with learning disabilities, who are perpetually subjected to racist control and violence by the state. We also want to acknowledge the black and brown women and non-binary people who have been killed while in the custody of the state, whether as a result either of police brutality, abuse and neglect during incarceration or other manifestations of systemic state violence.

Earlier this year, in solidarity with her family, members of Sisters Uncut attended the inquest of Sarah Reed. Sarah, a 32 year-old black, working class woman with mental health support needs, died in Holloway Prison in January 2016 after a long journey of state-inflicted violence. Instead of receiving the mental health support she needed after losing her child, Sarah was subjected to abuse time and time again. The multiple instances of violence perpetrated against Sarah included an assault by an officer of the Metropolitan Police, which led to further deterioration of her mental health due to the trauma, and an attempted rape while she was later detained in a psychiatric unit under the Mental Health Act. When she died, she had been in HMP Holloway on remand for more than three months. The sole purpose of her detention was to obtain  two psychiatric reports to confirm whether she was fit to plead for an alleged offence (an incident which occurred when she was defending herself from an abuser) which took place whilst she was an inpatient at a mental health unit.

What we saw during the inquest was, unfortunately, not surprising.On the witness stand we saw a string of psychiatrists (mostly middle-aged, white, middle class cismen) attempting to cover their own backs. They were judgemental, unsympathetic and unashamed. Despite their backtracking and clever side-stepping, the jury found that “Sarah did not receive adequate treatment for her high levels of distress, and the failure of prison psychiatrists to manage Sarah’s medication contributed to her death,” and that “The failure to complete the fitness to plead assessment in a timely manner contributed to her death.”

In fact, the psychiatrists had treated Sarah on the basis of only a diagnosis of a personality disorder, dismissing her history of diagnosis of psychotic disorder including paranoid schizophrenia. Her medication was changed and, of course, she was treated punitively rather than supportively. After one psychiatrist recommended she resume taking anti-psychotic medication, it took the lead psychiatrist 2 weeks before consulting with the team at HMP Holloway.  All the while Sarah’s distress was increasing and her mental health was deteriorating fast. She died a few days later.

Importantly, the jury also stated “Sarah’s death was self-inflicted at a time when the balance of her mind was disturbed but [they] were not convinced that she intended to take her life.” Confirmed: She was killed by the state.

One psychiatrist admitted that he concluded his “assessment” after merely looking through the hatch in Sarah’s cell door for  a couple of seconds, not even having stepped into to room or engaged her in conversation. “But you can tell a lot from observation,” was the gist of his lengthy defence.

It was also appalling to see the judge himself make a snide remark about Sarah, after her support worker had mentioned her missing a couple of  doctor’s appointments. “Not very good at keeping appointments, is she?”  Well, just maybe that’s one of the things someone with mental health support needs might need help with. And maybe, as a judge, you could leave your disablist attitudes at home. In that room, it became clearer than ever that as a black working class woman, Sarah Reed had the odds stacked against her at every point of her engagement with the state. We could see not a single witness who would be able to even begin to relate to her lived experience on a personal level.

Today, we march for Sarah Reed. We stand in solidarity with her family and all of the families affected by police brutality and deaths in state custody. We will continue to fight with them and to expose the systemic oppression and violence inflicted upon our sisters, brothers and siblings by the police, prisons and mental health services.

Click here to find out how you can support the United Friends and Families Campaign.

Details or the jury’s findings during the Inquest can be found here:


#SayHerName; Inquest into the death of Sarah Reed at HMP Holloway opens today

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Content note: sexual violence, police violence, racism, rape

Today the inquest into the death of Sarah Reed aged 32, a working class woman of colour with serious mental health issues, found dead in her cell in Holloway Prison on 11 January 2016, begins.

Image result for Sarah Reed images

Over a likely 3/4 weeks, the coroner will hear evidence around the circumstances leading up to her death, including the withdrawal of her medication, her placement on segregation, lack of transfer to a mental health unit for proper treatment and issues around family contact.

Whatever the Court publishes in its final report, we already know that Sarah died as a direct result of racialized state violence, across many institutions, and at the hands of the Metropolitan Police.

In 2014, Sarah was violently attacked by a police officer when accused of shoplifting. The painful incident was caught on film, but the officer only received community service.

In 2015, while being detained under the Mental Health Act, Sarah was the victim of an attempted rape. She was subsequently charged with grievous bodily harm for defending herself against her attacker.

Sentenced in Holloway, on remand for the “crime” of defending herself from abuse, Sarah was denied medication that had helped to stabilise her condition – stemming from the death of her six-month-old daughter in 2003 – during the previous year. Despite pleas from herself and her family about her deteriorating mental health, her medication was not reinstated.

Sarah’s story is tragic, but not remarkable. There were 12 female suicides in prisons last year, compared with seven in 2015 and between one and three each year before that since 2006. This trend only looks set to continue as the state incarcerates more and more people in overcrowded jails, while investing money that should be spent on life-saving services on 9 new mega-prisons in England and Wales.

Sarah’s story lays bare the depth of the state’s institutionalised and violent treatment of vulnerable women, of working class women of colour, of women with mental health issues, who are routinely denied access to dignity and justice.

As Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, says: “The fundamental question in this case, like so many more before it is: why was Sarah ever sent to prison in the first place?

“The state’s responsibility for deaths goes beyond the prison walls and extends to failures in mental health and substance abuse provision, sentencing policies and the failure to implement the Corston report and invest in alternatives to custody.”

In June, Sisters Uncut reclaimed the visitor’s centre on the site of Holloway Prison in the memory of Sarah Reed, and the ten other women who died inside its walls since 2004.

We continue to fight for her legacy. We stand in solidarity with her family and friends, and we encourage you to support the Justice for Sarah Reed Campaign during the Inquest:

Volunteer to help the campaign during the inquest – contact [email protected] for more information

Share your support of the campaign on Facebook or Twitter, using hashtags #Justice4SarahReed #BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName

The inquest into Sarah Reed’s death in Holloway Prison opens at 10am today. Sarah, a black, working class, vulnerable woman with serious mental health issues, was failed brutally and systematically by the state.

#BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName #SarahReed