A HIGH-RISK Winchester prisoner died after catching Covid from his cellmate, an inquest heard.

David Thorpe, 83, died at Royal Hampshire County Hospital on February 5, 2021 having tested positive for the virus just 10 days earlier.

A statement read out to the court on behalf of his daughter, Tracy Ferrazzano, told of how she felt "let down" by the prison putting Mr Thorpe, who had underlying lung and heart conditions, in a cell with a younger inmate.

She described his death as "negligence" on the prison's behalf, and said he had previously joked his cellmate would give him Covid the last time the pair spoke.

However, an independent report has since found staff at HMP Winchester acted appropriately throughout, ruling Mr Thorpe's death was neither "foreseeable or preventable".

The inquest was told Mr Thorpe was formerly a long-term heavy smoker of up to 100 cigarettes a day, but he had managed to kick the habit before he was jailed.

As a result, he suffered from breathing difficulties and had a pacemaker fitted. Mr Thorpe was also on a significant collection of medications for his ill-health.

He was identified by the prison as high-risk in March 2021 and offered shielding, which would have seen him moved to a single cell with a separate routine from the general population.

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But despite several letters and reminders in way of conversations with prison officers, Mr Thorpe refused to shield, later signing a disclaimer to say he was happy to accept the risk of remaining in a larger bubble with other inmates.

A report compiled by the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman in the wake of his death questioned whether enough was done to emphasise the dangers failing to shield posed.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Dr Nicola Wingate, a GP for inmates at HMP Winchester, said she had "no doubt" he was "perfect in his own mind" and fully understood what signing the document meant.

Mr Thorpe was later placed into a cell with another high-risk inmate who had also refused to shield. He was referred to as 'Prisoner B' during the inquest.

Prisoner B had entered HMP Winchester in December 2020, completing the mandatory two-week isolation with a cohort of fellow prisoners. In that time, he had returned two negative tests, but was placed into one of the larger bubbles for a week before he joined Mr Thorpe in his cell on January 12, 2021. A day later, Prisoner B tested positive for Covid and the pair were placed in isolation.

Senior coroner Christopher Wilkinson questioned why he wasn't tested again before being moved into a cell with a fellow high-risk inmate.

The inquest was told Mr Thorpe was admitted to hospital three times in the lead up to his death. On the morning of January 25, the pensioner had slipped on his cellmate's trousers and hit his head, suffering from a minor concussion.

Paramedics transferred him to hospital where a CT scan found no internal damage. He returned a positive Covid test while in hospital.

A day later, he was back at the hospital after falling out of his bed. Medical staff at the prison noted a shortness of breath and he was struggling to walk for any prolonged period of time. He stayed overnight before once again being passed back into the care of the prison.

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The inquest was told staff checked him twice daily to monitor his temperature and oxygen levels in the days that followed. On January 30, they noticed his oxygen saturation had dropped and he was once again struggling for breath. An ambulance was called and he was taken to the Shawford Ward at Winchester hospital with worsening Covid symptoms.

Ward staff noted that he was not tolerating the oxygen mask and his condition was deteriorating rapidly. He died on February 5.

A post mortem revealed he died of a blood clot, caused in part by his underlying health conditions and the Covid infection.

Dean Sinclair, head of safety at HMP Winchester, described managing the pandemic as "extremely complex" because of the ratio of staff to prisoners.

He said it had a huge impact on prisoners's phone access, hygiene and routine, leading to increased violence and assaults on staff.

He insisted "stringent" processes were in place to ensure the prison was safe, although he conceded they were under continual improvement as staff adapted to the pandemic. Mr Sinclair said the first year was a "massive learning curve".

Concluding the inquest, Mr Wilkinson recognised significant steps were taken to minimise Covid-19 in the prison, adding that everything seemed to have been done in accordance with government recommendations and procedures at the time.

He noted that the rollout of the vaccine at HMP Winchester, which took place shortly after Mr Thorpe died, was in line with other prisons throughout the country.

He did find there may have been a heightened duty of care for Mr Thorpe because of his refusal to shield, but ultimately accepted that was subject to "informed consent" which he exercised.

Several healthcare recommendations were made as a result of the PPO's report which Mr Wilkinson echoed. These included the absence of documentation on Mr Thorpe's decision not to shield and whether Prisoner B had been in the same bubble at the time he was moved into his cell. However, these were not deemed "significant failures" and were "unlikely" to have made any difference.

Mr Wilkinson gave the cause of death as Covid-19 and coronary artery atheroma, both natural causes.

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