Belfast Telegraph

Mother of restraint death prisoner loses battle to have Maghaberry warders publicly named

The mother of a man who died in jail following a restraint procedure today lost her High Court battle to have the warders involved publicly named.

Elizabeth McDonnell was challenging decisions to maintain anonymity and screening for prison officers who testified at the inquest into the death of her son James.

But a judge dismissed her case after declaring that protecting their identities had not undermined the integrity of a verdict which satisfied the family.

Mr Justice Treacy said: "Unless the inquest is to be quashed and a new inquest ordered I question the utility of these proceedings brought at very considerable expense to the parties and the public purse."

Antrim man James McDonnell, 36, died in HMP Maghaberry in March 1996 after suffering a heart attack.

A short time earlier officers had subjected him to a control and restraint procedure, with a post mortem identifying neck injuries consistent with an assault.

Following an inquest last year a jury found neck compression and the initial restraint contributed to the subsequent fatal heart attack.

Senior coroner John Leckey has referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate whether any criminal offence was committed.

Even though the dead man's family was happy with the outcome of the tribunal, they wanted the court to quash the decision to grant anonymity and screening to all prison officers who requested it.

Identities were withheld on the basis of the risk to their lives.

Counsel for Mrs McDonnell said there was no justification for not naming them, arguing that some are still serving and dealing with convicted criminals and dissident republicans who know who they are.

She claimed one of the witnesses, identified only as Officer H, has a high media profile which renders his bid to remain shielded invalid.

Prison Service lawyers contended, however, that there was no basis for any procedural irregularity in an inquest which complied with human rights requirements.

And a barrister for the coroner argued that once the inquest is over his function is finished.

Delivering judgment today, Mr Justice Treacy held that the anonymity and screening decisions had not breached the family's human rights.

He pointed out that the officers gave their evidence in public, and were not screened from the coroner, jury or the family and its lawyers.

Dismissing the judicial review, the judge said: "I do not consider that it is ordinarily open to an applicant to challenge such procedural rulings which have no impact on the verdict or the effectiveness of the inquest."

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