Recommendations about record keeping in the probation service and accommodation for prison leavers have been made by an ombudsman after a repeat offender was found dead at the side of the road just days after being released from prison.

On November 4, 2021, a member of the public found 29-year-old Thomas Wilton, previously of West View Terrace, Padiham, dead on a grassy area near a housing estate in Burnley.

A post-mortem examination report concluded that Wilton died of hypothermia in the context of multiple drug toxicity, and a drug-related death conclusion was recorded at his inquest.

Wilton, who was a prolific offender and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, was no stranger to prison, having served time in Lancaster Farms in 2020 for theft, possession of cannabis, criminal damage, assault, obstruction, racially/religious aggravated fear and provocation of violence.

In September 2021, he was sent back to prison for a month for further offences, but six days after his release on October 29, 2021, he was found dead.

A report from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman into Wilton’s death, which was published last month, stated that when he arrived at HMP Preston, he was put on an alcohol detox for nine days, but while in prison, missed two GP appointments and the prison GP left a message for him to reschedule another appointment, but he never did.

Healthcare staff did not follow this up further as they should have done.

Wilton had been allocated a community offender manager who had agreed to meet with him before his release and filled out a referral form for him in terms of his housing plans for when he had finished his sentence.

He was also referred to Inspire in Burnley and appointed a drug and alcohol practitioner, and an appointment with both probation and Inspire were made for him on Friday October 29 and Monday November 1.

The report noted that under a scheme which had been introduced in July 2021, temporary accommodation for up to 84 nights was to be provided for homeless prison leavers to help them move into settled accommodation upon their release.

However, due to difficulty accessing the scheme and staff shortages, a referral for temporary accommodation for Wilton upon his release was delayed so when he left prison, he was effectively homeless.

A third meeting had been arranged to discuss his accommodation further, but despite staying with family on the first weekend he was released, he had no fixed accommodation and he died before that meeting could take place.

The ombudsman’s report stated: “We found an issue of concern relating to record keeping.

“Probation staff failed to keep Mr Wilton’s probation record on the Probation case management system updated.

“As a result, some of the actions undertaken by probation staff in preparation for Mr Wilton’s release were not evidenced.”

The report also noted that Wilton’s death highlighted the importance of staff making prompt referrals and chasing them up to avoid periods of homelessness after prison release.

It recommended that the head of East Lancashire Probation Delivery Unit should ensure that all Community Offender Managers record all contact and actions completed on individual cases the Probation Service’s case management system, and stated, “provision of suitable accommodation for people leaving prison is challenging and is an issue that extends beyond the remit of HMP Preston or local probation services. The local authority will want to be aware of the issues raised in this case”.

The ombudsman report went on: “Mr Wilton had a significant history of substance misuse, and his offending was linked to his substance misuse.

“His sentences reflected a cycle of offending, short prison sentences and community supervision.

“When Mr Wilton arrived at HMP Preston, nursing staff identified that he had drug and alcohol issues and appropriately referred him for support.

“We are satisfied that there was appropriate planning for Mr Wilton’s release and that the relevant referrals were made to services that could support him.

“He was also referred to a community substance misuse service and he attended an appointment with them on the day of his release.

“Mr Wilton was not provided with naloxone on his release from prison because he was not prescribed methadone in prison and had received support around his use of crack cocaine and cannabis, rather than opiates.

“Staff did not consider him to be at high risk of an opiates overdose. We consider that, in the circumstances, this was not unreasonable.”