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Breeze block death accused Gerard Mulligan found dead in Maghaberry

More questions raised as prisoner dies in custody at heavily-criticised prison

By Allan Preston

Published 07/11/2016

Gerard Mulligan with his girlfriend Michelle Logue
Gerard Mulligan with his girlfriend Michelle Logue

A prisoner who took his own life at under-pressure Maghaberry jail at the weekend was being held in custody on suspicion of the murder of his own father.

Gerard Mulligan (44) was charged with the murder of his father - also called Gerard - on September 29, after police discovered his body in the boot of a car in Limehurst Way in Lisburn days earlier.

It's understood the victim, who had severe head injuries after he was hit with a breeze block, was in his 70s.

The NI Prison Service (NIPS) confirmed the death of a 44-year-old prisoner on Saturday night, but have yet to name him.

Acting Prison Service director general Phil Wragg said: "I would like to extend my sympathy and that of the Northern Ireland Prison Service to the family of the prisoner who has died in Maghaberry. My thoughts are with them at this difficult time."

A NIPS spokesman said the man's next of kin have been informed.

"As with standard procedure, the PSNI, Coroner and Prisoner Ombudsman have launched investigations into the death," he added.

This is at least the fourth death to have occurred in Maghaberry since a damning report a year ago branded the high-security prison "dangerous and unsafe."

The joint assessment by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) in November 2015 said Maghaberry was "a prison in crisis".

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, said at the time: "This is one of the worst prisons I've ever seen and the most dangerous prison I've been to."

Maghaberry houses almost 1,000 prisoners, including around 50 with loyalist and republican paramilitary affiliations who are held in segregated accommodation.

Dissident republicans have issued death threats against prison staff in recent years and in 2012 long-serving officer David Black was shot dead by dissidents as he drove to work.

SDLP councillor Pat Catney lives across the street from Gerard Mulligan Snr's house in Lisburn.

He said questions needed to be asked on how the murder victim's son, someone with obvious "psychological problems", came to harm in Maghaberry.

"It's a really sad finale to that whole story," he said.

"That whole family is devastated, there's more pain for them now, no matter what the circumstances. The bottom line is just human tragedy, a family plunged into more grief than they already had."

"Questions have to be asked about Maghaberry.

"I would say before that man went in there was psychological problems there and they would have been aware of it. There has to be accountability in the Prison Service, there's problems there that keep building."

Mr Catney said he believed that although the nature of Mr Mulligan's crime was "horrific," he may have needed extra supervision.

"You would think in those circumstances we would be watching out for problems," he said.

"Prison officers don't have it easy there's no doubt about that. But the amount of money put into prisons here means we need answers.

"We're meant to feel fairly safe when dangerous people are taken out of society. But when they're in Her Majesty's care we should expect the highest standards."

Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson Doug Beattie MLA said that "any death in custody is a tragedy".

"Our thoughts are with the man's family and all those affected, including the prison officers," he added.

"We must now await the outcome of the Prison Ombudsman's report."

Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein's justice spokesman, said that he was "deeply concerned" about the latest death in Maghaberry prison.

"I will be contacting prison service authorities to obtain a full report on the circumstances surrounding this man's death in custody," he said.

"My sympathies and thoughts are with his family and friends at this time."

On Friday, 190 prison staff at Maghaberry arrived late for work over a pay dispute that has apparently been running for a year.

Finlay Spratt, chair of the Prison Officer's association, said "staff are totally frustrated" with working conditions, adding: "I intend to ballot the membership for an all-out strike.

"It is so sad that we have to go to those extremes to make the management sit up and listen."

Last night, Justice Minister Claire Sugden declined to comment when asked if the latest death was a sign that conditions in the Northern Ireland prison service were only getting worse.

Gemma Weir from the Worker's Party said the crisis demanded an "immediate and incisive response" from the Justice Minister.

"The latest death of an inmate at Maghaberry prison further heightens concerns about the fitness of our prison regime and the way in which duty of care is approached," she said.

She added the death of the prisoner at Maghaberry and a series of incidents - one involving a prisoner blinding and self harming himself while under observation by prison staff - were alarming.

"We have some very serious and systemic problems in our prison system," she said.

"This has to be the top of the Minister for Justice's agenda and a comprehensive, all-inclusive and far-reaching action plan must be forthcoming within weeks: not months or years.

"Prisoners in the care of society are inflicting harm upon themselves and in several cases taking their own lives," she added.

"This is not a time for pious platitudes, it is a time for a root and branch examination of the entire prison system with a view to making it safe, effective and accountable."

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