Colleagues of a prison officer found dead at his Co Antrim home say they believe the stress of being suspended from duty was a major factor in his death.
Nursing officer Pat Downey was one of four prison officers suspended after an investigation was launched into the death of John Anthony Deery in Maghaberry Prison last August.
The sex offender was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital after he was found hanging in part of Bush House where he was being held on suicide watch in a temporary medical unit.
Pat Downey was suspended in October shortly after new Maghaberry governor Steve Rodford assembled staff in the prison chapel and told them that officers would be charged over Deery’s death after CCTV tapes were examined.
Colleagues said at the time that all four officers were devastated when they learned they would be facing serious disciplinary charges arising from Deery’s death.
At the time of the suspensions one officer described the action to charge and suspend the officers as a “witch-hunt”.
“The people suspended are completely dedicated nursing staff who tended to Deery and others in their care. They’re now being investigated about literally minutes in their daily schedule records and whether the timings are precise,” the officer said.
“Staff on duty at Lagan House for the brief period Deery was there are going to be scrutinised in the same way. It’s a witch-hunt.”
The Prison Service declined to indicate why Mr Downey was charged but colleagues say they understand he was accused of making an inaccurate entry in his log of Deery’s position on his prison bed during a periodic observation.
On Friday, colleagues said they feared the stress of being charged and suspended made Pat Downey depressed and ill and claimed it may have triggered a heart attack.
In a statement yesterday, the Prison Service said: “The Prison Service can confirm that a member of healthcare staff at Maghaberry Prison very regrettably died from natural causes earlier this week. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.
“The issue of counselling is of a confidential nature and it would be inappropriate to comment specifically in relation to it. However it is stan dard Prison Service practice to make available counselling services.”