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Family of man who died on remand for stealing from bakery during Croydon riots call for 'open and honest debate'

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THE family of a man who died while on remand for stealing a gingerbread man during the riots have called for an "open and honest debate" over the prison system and its emergency measures.

James Best, 37, died in Wandsworth jail on September 8, 2011, while on remand for stealing a gingerbread man from a looted London Road bakery.

He suffered mental and physical health problems, including Crohn's Disease and asthma, and had been sectioned just two weeks before his arrest.

At the time, courts had been advised that riot-related offences should be dealt with much more strictly, leading to a surge in the prison population.

An inquest last week found flaws in his care at Wandsworth, where Mr Best died shortly after collapsing while exercising in the prison gym.

His foster brother, Owen Daniel, said: "The threats of youth unemployment and social unrest are all still there and we should debate what would happen to future vulnerable individuals who need hospital treatment as opposed to jail time.

"I agree that people deserve to be punished for crime, as long as it's proportionate and reasonable given the offence.

"There were many cases during the riots where people received ludicrous sentences compared to the crime itself. This knee-jerk reaction was not the kick that James deserved."

Mr Daniel, 34, said he had seen Mr Best a few weeks before and was "shocked" by his condition, adding: "He was not a well man at all."

An inquest at Westminster Coroners' Court last week recorded a narrative verdict, saying "opportunities to save his life were not maximised".

The inquest heard the system to check whether prisoners were fit to use the gym had broken down, while there was conflicting evidence over how healthcare staff responded to his collapse.

It also heard that it took eight minutes for London Ambulance Service to send an ambulance, mainly due to a rigid triage system which has since been altered.

Mr Daniel added: "I would never have become half the man I am today without his influence; he was a true inspiration to our family and to all who knew him.

"Although he was no angel, he was our hero.

"I treasure every memory and experience we shared together.

"He was my best friend and I miss him more than words can say."

His foster mother, Dolly Daniel, who looked after him from the age of 15, said: "He was let down by the justice system and they basically ignored his health issues.

"I just hope that the procedures can be improved so that no one else has to suffer as we have."

The Ministry of Justice had not commented on the inquest at the time of going to press.

Family of man who died on remand for stealing from bakery during Croydon riots call for 'open and honest debate'


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