Murderer dies one week after catching Covid while serving life in prison

The killer, 64, was unnecessarily restrained on his last trip to hospital with Covid which left him ‘confused, shaking and unable to stand’, a report found

David Spence was serving a life prison sentence at HMP Northumberland
David Spence was serving a life prison sentence at HMP Northumberland

A murderer who was jailed for life died a week after testing positive for Covid during an outbreak in prison.

David Spence, 64, died of a stroke as a result of coronavirus in December 2020, almost four decades after his horrific crime in 1982.

The convicted killer was released on license after being sentenced to life behind bars, Chronicle Live reports.

But he was brought back into custody and transferred to HMP Northumberland in April 2019.

While in prison, Spence had received care equivalent to what he might have expected on the outside, according to a report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) published in January.

But he was unnecessarily restrained on his final emergency trip to hospital, it was found.

The convict, who suffered from substance misuse and mental health problems, as well as a slow heart rate, tested positive for coronavirus on December 11.

A report found Spence received care equivalent to what we might have expected outside prison

That same day, a prison nurse found him short of “breath, confused, shaking and unable to stand.”

After initially appearing to stabilize, he was taken to Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital by paramedics.

The next morning he suffered a stroke and was rendered uncommunicative.

After his condition deteriorated further, on December 16 he was moved to Wansbeck Hospital for palliative care, dying on December 18.

Spence suffered a stroke and was left uncommunicative


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The PPO report examined the quality of Spence’s care, which was judged to be “equivalent to that he could have expected to receive in the community.”

It also assessed the management of his risk of being infected by coronavirus, noting that inspectors had ruled the Sodexo-run prison had made a “timely response to the pandemic” with “good communication on precautions to help prevent the spread of the infection”.

Staff had appropriate access to PPE but although social distancing was managed for queues it was less well maintained in informal situations and some residential areas

The report added: “Mr Spence was not considered to be vulnerable to serious illness if he contracted Covid-19 and was therefore not required to shield.

“He was tested immediately each time he displayed characteristic symptoms of the infection and healthcare staff referred him promptly to secondary care when his condition worsened.

HMP Northumberland


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“As he had not left Northumberland for any reason during the weeks leading to his Covid-19 diagnosis, we conclude that he contracted the virus during the outbreak at the prison.”

Finally, the use of restraints on Spence’s final journey out of the prison were considered.

The report said: “Mr Spence was a Category C prisoner and therefore the standard handcuff arrangements for his security category was a single cuff, not double cuffs as the prison said.

“In addition, Mr. Spence was acutely unwell when he left the prison. The hospital’s death certificate noted that he had been admitted with reduced consciousness and dense left-sided weakness.

The murder took place in 1982


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“We believe that the security department should have given greater priority to seeking medical input to the risk assessment.

“We are not satisfied that the assessment and decision to use restraints took proper account of Mr Spence’s poor physical condition.”

Prison staff were advised to make sure they understand the legalities of restraint use and properly consider prisoner’s health and the actual risk they pose in such circumstances in future.

A spokesman for HMP Northumberland said: Our thoughts are very much with the family of Mr Spence, who sadly passed away in December 2020.

“We cooperated fully with the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s review and noted that the Ombudsman report states the standard of healthcare Mr Spence received was of a reasonable standard and equivalent to what he could have expected to receive in the community.

“We accepted the recommendation made in the report and implemented an action plan which has since been completed.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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