Dad found dead in Exeter Prison after being locked up for his safety

An inquest has begun into the death of a ‘devoted’ 51-year-old dad who died the day after being recalled back to prison ‘for his safety’. Anthon Van Der Hoven had been living with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from his experiences while serving in the military in South Africa where he was born.

In a bid to cope, he struggled intermittently from alcohol and drug dependency. Despite settling down in St Ives, Cornwall, and enjoying a happy life with his wife, being a stay-at-home dad and working as an artist, Mr Van Der Hoven continued to battle with his mental health.

In 2016, he was imprisoned for an attempted robbery at his local post office in an out-of-character desperate bid to pay off drug dealer debts, a jury inquest at Exeter Coroners Court heard yesterday, May 9. He was released in 2018 but in June 2019 he was recalled back to prison due to concerns over his alcohol use.

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He presented at Camborne Police Station on June 7, 2019, and was taken to HMP Exeter later that day. Mr Van Der Hoven had been suffering from the effects of withdrawal from alcohol and was seen by medical staff both at the police station and the prison.

The following evening, June 8, Mr Van Der Hoven was found unresponsive in his cell and was unable to be revived. A post-mortem examination confirmed the cause of his death was the consequence of chronic alcohol misuse and the abstention of alcohol.

The jury heard a heartfelt emotional statement written and read out by his ex-wife Laurian Van Der Hoven who told how Mr Van Der Hoven had a challenging childhood due to the South African Apartheid regime he was born into. After leaving school he had to complete national service in the intelligence corps and was on active duty during the Border War.

She recalled how his life was at risk on a daily basis and that he experienced ‘horrific things’ such as accidentally driving over and killing one of his own troops at a checkpoint while being the untrained driver of a tank for the first time. After the war, he struggled with heroin addiction and moved to the UK for a fresh start and was able to remain living in the UK after marrying her in 2001.

She described him as having been an intelligent and creative man who was passionate about poetry, art and music, and said they were ‘happy for some time’ until he began suffering flashbacks leading to a PTSD diagnosis in 2004 and returning to drug misuse. After coming home from a specialist clinic for traumatised ex-servicemen she recalled they began to rebuild their life together again with their daughter.

Mrs Van Der Hoven, a former assistant headteacher, said: “As a husband and father he loved us unconditionally.”



HMP Exeter
HMP Exeter

However, a series of health problems, including a growth on his spinal cord in 2010 which required major surgery, saw him prescribed strong pain relief resulting in a drug relapse.

She said: “He was on heavy doses of morphine for weeks and as an addict, this was to prove to be fatal.”

She added he still remained a loving and dedicated dad, but admitted she was naive about drugs and that he was ‘very secretive’. After he was imprisoned, she told how she reluctantly began divorce proceedings.

On his release, she said he was clean and better both physically and mentally until he unsuccessfully tried to fight a deportation order and was given no time scale of when he had to leave.

Mrs Van Der Hoven recalled: “He was petrified by the thought of returning to South Africa and leaving his daughter.”

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It is then she said he began drinking heavily. He had been due to go into rehab but instead, he was recalled back to prison.

She said: “Over a period of weeks he got increasingly drunk when seeing his probation worker who instigated his recall to prison as he believed it would be for his safety.”

However, she said she still remained fearful for his health despite being assured he would be taken care of and added: “I was so worried something awful would happen to him… I was so worried his body would not be able to cope with sudden withdrawal.”



Exeter Prison
Exeter Prison

The inquest heard it was her belief his health had not been sufficiently monitored during his detention and said: “It is important to me to understand why he was not under close and constant supervision.”

She concluded: “I hope the inquest provides us with answers but it can’t compensate for the pain of losing Anthon.”

Evidence was also heard from custody sergeants at Camborne Police Station. It was confirmed Mr Van Der Hoven had been deemed by medical professionals to be fit to be detained and travel to HMP Exeter and while in their care was subject to 30 minute checks.

The inquest continues.

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