Belfast Telegraph

‘Dying’ Brendan Lillis is moved to hospital

By Lesley-Anne Henry

A seriously ill life sentence prisoner has been moved from prison to a hospital.

Campaigners who had called for the release of Brendan Lillis say they feel vindicated by a Department of Justice decision to transfer him to an outside hospital.

Mr Lillis, a former IRA blanketman, who had his licence revoked in 2009, suffers from the debilitating arthritic disease Ankylosing spondylitis, which causes the bones in his spine to fuse and has been confined to bed in the hospital at Maghaberry for the past two years.

His family and nationalist politicians, who feared he would die in prison, have been putting pressure on the Justice Minister David Ford to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

In the latest development last night the DoJ confirmed that Lillis, who now weighs just five stone, would be moved to an outside hospital for "assessment".

A statement said: "The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has primary responsibility for health care within prisons. A doctor has recommended that Mr Lillis be transferred to an outside hospital for assessment. The Prison Service is working to facilitate this request."

Mr Lillis' partner Roisin Lynch said the decision meant the minister now had "egg on his face".

"I feel relieved and vindicated and I have spent most of the day in tears, to be honest," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"But this is the last thing that Ford would want because he now looks like he has egg on his face."

Ms Lynch said she feared her partner, who has the body mass index of a child and has been in bed for 632 days, would "never recover".

"All the stuff that was said that Brendan could get the same treatment in prison as in an outside hospital is rubbish," she added.

Lillis, who is from west Belfast, was sentenced to life in 1977 on explosives charges, but was released on licence in 1993. It was revoked in 2009 after he was rearrested on robbery charges.

Last night SDLP justice committee member Colum Eastwood also said news of the transfer was a "vindication" of the calls for him to be freed.

The Foyle MLA said: "This must now be backed up with his release."

Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey urged the Justice Minister to get a grip on the case.

"The advice he has been given to date by officials is clearly wrong. He needs to release Brendan Lillis on compassionate and humanitarian grounds."

Last week a delegation, including Sinn Fein and SDLP representatives, presented the minister with an independent medical report by a consultant psychiatrist from the Irish United Nations Association that expressed concerns Lillis would die in prison due to his condition.

Background

The parole commissioners ruled that Brendan Lillis (59), who is seriously ill in Maghaberry jail with the arthritic condition Ankylosing spondylitis, was not suitable for release on compassionate grounds. His family and supporters have been pressurising Justice Minister David Ford to free him.

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