The mother of an inmate who died at Bridgend's Parc prison last year has accused the jail of failing her son. Claire Appleby Jones was told by the prison that her son Ross Appleby died of a spice overdose but she says there are unanswered questions over what happened to him.

Claire told WalesOnline her son was targeted by some inmates in the build-up to his death — including being stabbed a few months earlier — and that Parc failed to offer support as his mental health deteriorated. "I've lost the most important part of me," said the 49-year-old mum. "I'm not going to stop talking until Parc's failings are rooted out. The jail is an absolute disgrace."

We recently revealed that six inmates had died suddenly at Bridgend's HMP Parc between February 27 and March 19 this year. South Wales Police is treating two of the deaths as non-suspicious but believes the other four to be drug-related. After the news emerged, several former Parc prisoners and officers contacted us claiming that private security firm G4S had lost control of the jail, which was alleged to be overrun with drugs and violence.

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Ross, a 29-year-old father-of-three from Newport, died on January 18 last year. He had been remanded at Parc around September 2022 and the following month was sentenced to a three-year jail term for drug-dealing offences. Claire, who spoke to Ross regularly during his time inside, said he struggled to cope in B wing. "They called B wing the jungle," she added. "It's not a good wing to be on because the drugs are rife there. The staff don't run B wing. The inmates run it."

A few months before Ross' death another inmate went into his cell, stabbed him and robbed him of his gold necklace. Claire then received a phone call from her "dazed"-sounding son who said he was bleeding out and feared for his life. He said he had attempted to call for help using the emergency buzzer in his cell but that it had been switched off. There was allegedly only one member of staff on the wing at the time.

Ross Appleby, left, with his brother Sheridan
Ross Appleby, left, with his brother Sheridan

"No one was helping Ross," she said. "I had to ring the jail and tell them he'd been stabbed. They said, 'We haven't been informed, we know nothing about it.' And I said, 'I'm telling you, you're being informed.' Their attitude was horrific." Claire claimed more than an hour passed between the stabbing and help arriving. Ross had two wounds: one to his arm and a deeper one to his leg. His attacker was not caught and the necklace was not recovered, said Claire, who suspects Ross was later subjected to further violence but was reluctant to tell her because "he didn't want to worry me".

Claire said Ross had recently been diagnosed with autism but that he received no support while in Parc. "He was being locked up 23 hours a day," she added. "He had no access to the gym, he was lucky if he even got a shower every day. The Covid restrictions on things like the gym had been lifted by the government but Parc hadn't lifted them."

She later spoke with her son's cellmate, who said Ross had been staying in the cell all the time in the weeks before his death. "His padmate told me Ross wasn't leaving the cell even for food," she said. "Why weren't the staff picking up on this behaviour from a normally bubbly man? I think the stabbing had shaken him and I think he was scared to leave his cell. His padmate would bring him some food back and I'd send money each week so he could buy things from the canteen. He was pretty much living on pot noodles and things like that.

"On the night he died his padmate was shouting and banging on the door, trying to raise the alarm. No one came to his cell for at least half an hour. The buzzer was off again, so the padmate said he couldn't do anything but kick the door, and was totally traumatised by it. When help finally got there, Ross had a faint heartbeat. An air ambulance came but it was too little, too late. We don't know what would have happened if they'd got to him sooner."

The prison told Claire her son died by overdosing on the psychoactive substance spice — sometimes called the "zombie drug" as it often leaves users' limbs in contorted positions — which she found difficult to accept given, she said, he had not been a user of hard drugs. Claire added that he had sounded lucid when she last spoke to him, two days before his death. She has not been able to get any information about the circumstances behind the death, other than the reported spice overdose. She said the prison has not answered questions about the issues with emergency buzzers, why her son did not receive more mental health support, and how the drugs got into the prison.

Paying tribute to Ross, Claire said: "He was funny, sarcastic with a very dry sense of humour, caring, and he did have a good heart. He was a bit of a scrapper and a hothead, but he would never see anyone go without. He was a big part of the family. He made some bloody silly decisions but he was hopeful and he did try. With his autism, which was diagnosed late, he wanted to do things and just couldn't. From the age of about 14 he knew he was different and didn't know how to change.

"He was always bumping into stuff and falling over. We'd always say, 'It's because you've got tiny feet.' He was 6ft 5ins tall and had size nine feet. He loved going up Welsh mountains with his dog — who was called Chaos, obviously — and he loved anything with wheels. He wanted to set up a fencing business with his brother Sheridan when he got out. He could put his hand to anything, and he was a brilliant artist who loved drawing."

A spokesperson for HMP Parc said: "Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Ross Appleby. As with all deaths in custody, it is a matter for the coroner to determine the cause of death." An inquest is yet to take place. The coroner's office has been approached for comment. You can read more about the crisis at Parc here.

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