By Sarah Bates
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Serco under fire for death in custody and fraud

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Issue 2662
Rafal Sochachki was trapped in a Serco custody van before he died
Rafal Sochacki was trapped in a Serco custody van before he died (Pic: Philafrenzy/Wikicommons)

Two cases this week have exposed the fatal practices and profiteering at the heart of the criminal justice system.

In one, an inquest jury has ruled this week that a man died as a result of excessive heat in his London court cell.

Rafal Sochacki died from a heart attack at Westminster magistrates’ court on 21 June 2017—one of the hottest days for four decades.

Air conditioning was broken inside the court building, leading temperatures in his cell to rise to an estimated 34 to 40 degrees.

He suffered “excessive temperatures” in the custody van and prison cell. A series of failures by both the public and private sector led to Rafal’s fatal heat stroke. 

Refugees in Glasgow fled war - now Serco wants to dump them on the street
Refugees in Glasgow fled war – now Serco wants to dump them on the street
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He was locked inside a custody van operated by private contractor Serco. Its engine was turned off and Rafal sweltered inside for 50 minutes.

He wasn’t checked on during this time and when they arrived at court, Rafal’s clothes were to be “wet with sweat”.

An investigator intended to inspect the van that Rafal suffered in.

But he we was told “that the inspection could not take place as the escort vehicle had been taken to the garage for an MOT, that the keys had been lost and that it would take two weeks for them to be replaced”.

A report from the prisons watchdog notes the behaviour of Serco workers.

“Although some officers asked Mr Sochacki if he was okay, as he was sweating heavily, no one checked on him  further, offered him the opportunity to refresh himself, to change his clothing or checked how hot his cell was or how to mitigate that.”


Rafal, a Polish national, wasn’t checked in at the custody suite or given information about his rights in Polish—as was his legal right.

Deborah Coles, director of the Inquest charity, said “This shocking and preventable death must send alarm bells across the criminal justice system.

“That a vulnerable man in the care of the state can overheat to death is dangerous.”

The death of Rafal Sochacki isn’t the only reason Serco are under fire this week.

The second case saw the outsourcing giant fined £19.2 million for fraud and false accounting.

Serco overcharged the government for its contract by claiming to electronically tag people who were dead, in jail, or had left the country.

The Serious Fraud Office has been investigating the firm since 2013—and it has had to pay £73.7 million in compensation and costs.

Serco claimed to be “mortified” by its own lies—but the death of Rafal Sochacki shows how carelessly it treats the lives of ordinary people.

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