Belfast Telegraph

Ex-watchdog's fear over inquest

A former prisons watchdog for Northern Ireland is concerned the identities of prisoners could be revealed during an inquest into an inmate's death, a lawyer said.

Ex-ombudsman Pauline McCabe has written to coroner Suzanne Anderson to highlight her fears before a full inquest into the death is held.

Frances McKeown, a 23-year-old mother of two with a history of mental health issues, hanged herself inside Hydebank Wood Women's Prison in Belfast in May 2011.

An ombudsman investigation raised serious concerns about her care in custody - a probe that prompted her widower Brian to take legal action against the Prison Service.

Barrister for the coroner Ronan Daly told a preliminary hearing in Belfast: "There was some correspondence regarding the identities of the inmates within the report and the ombudsman has raised concerns that would normally be addressed through redaction (of identities).

"There is a further concern that, even with redaction, the identities of the inmates could potentially still be uncovered with a little bit of research on behalf of anyone interested in so doing."

Mrs McCabe wrote two reports on the death, one about her care in custody and one involving a separate incident involving Ms McKeown during her time in Hydebank - an allegation she had witnessed a female inmate and a prison officer kiss.

Mrs McCabe found that the prison authorities did not properly investigate the claim.

In her main report into the prisoner's death, Mrs McCabe examined whether the episode involving the complaint led to Ms McKeown being bullied by fellow inmates.

The ombudsman found that a form of non-physical bullying had taken place but that it was unlikely this directly factored in her suicide.

In her report Mrs McCabe said the investigation into Ms McKeown's allegation was ''wholly inadequate'' and breached the authorities' duty of care.

Ms McKeown, who was living in Belfast prior to her arrest in September 2010 and was awaiting sentencing after being convicted in relation to a hijacking, was the second prisoner to commit suicide in Hydebank Wood in 24 hours.

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