Prisoner died after taking drug 'smuggled into jail on letters'

David Nisbet Welch was remanded at HMP Edinburgh for assault to severe injury, permanent impairment and danger of life in March 2020.

HMP Edinburgh prisoner died after taking drug ‘smuggled into jail soaked into letters’ iStock

A prisoner overdosed after a weekend drug binge which saw him take street Valium and a new drug being smuggled in on letters.

David Nisbet Welch was remanded at HMP Edinburgh for assault to severe injury, permanent impairment and danger of life in March 2020.

The 38-year-old declared that he had a history of illicit drug use and received a “medically assisted detox” within the first ten days of his sentence but wasn’t given any other medication during his time in custody.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry into his death heard Welch had worked as a pantry passman and was said to be “well liked” in the hall. In the months leading up to his death, prison staff reported no concerns, including medical ones, and noted nothing suspicious about his behaviour.

On the morning of his death on February 14, 2021, two prison officers took breakfast to his cell and left it on the desk as he didn’t come to the door.

One officer knocked Welch with his foot and heard him “grunt” but just a few hours later, he was found lying face down on the bed.

He was described as being “purple” in colour with blood coming from his nose.

A search of his cell failed to find any sign of controlled drugs, illicit substances or drugs paraphernalia.

However, following his death, prison staff were told that he had shown another prisoner a “quantity” of etizolam also known as street Valium.

The inquiry heard that he had been told that it was “far too much to be taking at one time” by fellow prisoners.

It was further reported that over the weekend he had consumed a new drug, which was being called Amo.

The drug was being smuggled into prisons across Scotland by being soaked into paper and then sent as letters to prisoners. The paper was boiled in a kettle and the water was drunk or used to make tea.

Welch’s cause of death was concluded to be caused by the “ingestion of a combination of drugs, combined with pre-existing coronary artery atherosclerosis”.

The report added: “These likely acted in combination leading to progressive respiratory depression, coma and ultimately death.”

Sheriff Kelly KC concluded: “It is tragically regrettable that this combination of drugs did find its way into the prison estate and contributed to the untimely death of Mr Welch.

“This Inquiry strengthened the need to take due care in these routines (of checking patients) to be sure that officers see the face of and obtain a response from all prisoners.

“With numerous cells to check and with checks being required three or four times per day, the risk of becoming slapdash in receiving a verbal response is evident.”

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “We fully recognise the impact on loved ones when someone dies in custody and our thoughts remain with the family of Mr Welch

“Our staff work hard to tackle the introduction of illicit substances and prevent the harm they cause. 

“We have seen the success of some measures, such as the photocopying of mail, in stopping that supply into our establishments. 

“However, we are not complacent and will continue to do all we can to safeguard the health and wellbeing of people in our care.”

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