Belfast Telegraph

Chinese prisoner 'hanged himself'

A suspected Chinese drug dealer hanged himself in his prison cell over fears he faced 12 years away from his family in a Northern Ireland jail, a watchdog has found.

Binghua Li, who spoke little English, was also depressed and confused over the length of time it was taking for his case to go to trial, according to the official investigation into his death.

The 36-year-old had been on remand inside Maghaberry high-security jail in Co Antrim for nine months on drugs charges after being arrested with 47 other Chinese nationals in a major PSNI bust of cannabis factories in June 2008.

He had only been in the country for six months when he was detained.

Inside prison he had been treated for depression and had made emotional calls to his wife back in China expressing fears he faced a lengthy spell behind bars.

Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe, who investigated the circumstances of the death in custody in March last year, found that his mental state had deteriorated further two weeks prior to his suicide after a court appearance, when a decision on when his trial would start was delayed for at least another month.

During her probe, Mrs McCabe received a joint letter from 11 fellow Chinese prisoners claiming the time the police investigation was taking was a contributory factor in him taking his own life.

The ombudsman also found that Li, who had not taken his prescribed anti-depressants in the 24 hours before his death, was concerned about the consequences for himself and his family in China of not paying off £18,000 he had borrowed to get to Northern Ireland.

He wrote two notes in Mandarin prior to hanging himself - one to his family expressing "deep regret" at his circumstances and the other to the PSNI making clear that he alone was responsible for his death.

Justice Minister David Ford said three of the ombudsman's recommendations on improving the care of foreign prisoners and those with mental health issues have already been implemented, while the others are being addressed.

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