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'Jail let my son out to die after he got addicted to morphine patch craze'

Mum blames raft of failures by authorities for 2014 tragedy

By Angela Rainey

Published 06/02/2016

Hugh McCabe died after release from Magilligan
Hugh McCabe died after release from Magilligan
Magilligan Prison

A grieving mother has accused authorities of a lack of support after her son died from the "jail craze" of smoking morphine patches six weeks after his release from prison.

Belfast woman Margaret McCabe (44) says she feels her son Hugh was "let out to die" after he left prison with a morphine smoking addiction.

She found his body in a flat at Magee House, Clonard, on July 31, 2014. The alarm was raised after there was no response to calls and texts from family.

Hugh (24) had been serving the last nine months of his seven-year sentence for assaulting a man in Magilligan Prison when he was released to a hostel. But he absconded to a flat, where only six weeks later he was found dead after an overdose.

The father-of-one had been smoking morphine patches, a behind-bars craze that uses a narcotic even stonger than heroin.

The patches are available free on prescription from the prison GP to inmates in severe pain, but they can be bought on the jail black market for £80 a patch, or £15 on the street.

Mrs McCabe blames a lack of support for Hugh's mental health issues and drug addiction, claiming his release was a catalogue of failings by authorities that contributed to his depression.

"As far as I am concerned, my son was let out to die. He wasn't seen as a human being who needed help, he was just seen, I think, as an offender who took drugs, who people thought would do nothing with his life and wasn't worth looking after," she claimed.

"But he served his time and deserved another chance. He was actually a kind and very caring person who would have done anything for anyone, he was always looking out for people, especially me and his siblings.

"When he was due for release he was told he was going to a hostel on the Antrim Road, then, on the last day of prison, that he was being put into the Innis Centre on Ventry Lane. But he didn't want to go into a hostel where there might be paedophiles or sex offenders.

"On his first day of being released he came to see me and told me that he would do a runner - there was no way he was staying there with people like that.

"I told him that he was out on licence and he only had nine months to go before he had completed his sentence, but he was having none of it. He really did not want to be placed with sex offenders. So he did a runner."

Since his death the mother-of-five says she is still so shell-shocked she has been unable to shed a single tear. Over a year on, she says there are still unanswered questions, such as how he got hooked on the drug, which is used to alleviate pain from surgery, cancer and chronic arthritis.

She has instructed a solicitor to obtain all the records the Prison Service kept on him, including what mental health support Hugh was getting and what medication he was taking.

Mrs McCabe is also campaigning for more to be done to support prisoners on release, and has set up a petition on entitled 'Do much more for ex prisoners'.

"Before Hugh went to prison at age 17, he had jumped from a roof and broke both his ankles," she said. "He didn't go to hospital because he knew he would be arrested for the assault. Instead, he crawled like a wee dog across the floor because he couldn't walk. He was in agony."

She claimed: "When he was arrested a few weeks later, he was on the floor and was grabbed by the ankles, so they would have still been broken when he was put in prison, but I've never found out if he was ever treated. But I know that prisoners take the morphine because the prison doesn't test for it. They test for heroin and cannabis, etc, but not morphine."

A spokesperson for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said: "Any prisoner released will register with a GP who can provide access to community mental health services, and they can also avail of services within their local emergency department at any point in time."

A Northern Ireland Prison Service spokesman said: "Supporting prisoners who face challenges in respect of their mental health is taken seriously by NIPS. Mental health awareness is included in recruit training and development programmes for existing staff."

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