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NI prison staff who did nothing as son gouged own eyes should be fired, says dad

Father calls for action after Prisoner Ombudsman's damning report

By Rebecca Black

Published 14/09/2016

Sean Lynch was an inmate at Maghaberry Prison
Sean Lynch was an inmate at Maghaberry Prison
Sean Lynch inflicted extreme self-harm at the high-security Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim in June 2014

A Londonderry father has called for prison officers at Maghaberry who stood by while his son gouged his own eyes out to be sacked.

A Prisoner Ombudsman report into the incident, published today, found that Sean Lynch self-harmed for 67 minutes on June 5, 2014, blinding himself and mutilating his genitals.

The warders said they did not step in because they did not realise the seriousness of his injuries, they believed that four staff would be unable to manage him, and that there could be a risk to prison security if he were to obtain the keys they carried.

The report noted that their concerns "appear to have had little basis in reality".

Ombudsman Tom McGonigle has made some 63 recommendations to both the Prison Service and the South Eastern Health Trust over the incident.

The Prisons Service, Department of Justice and South Eastern Health Trust have all responded to the report, saying lessons will be learned.

Lynch was a promising footballer in his youth, but started to battle mental health issues and experiment with alcohol and drugs as a teenager.

In November 2013, when he was 22-years-old, he was charged with assault and criminal damage. He was granted bail but breached the conditions. As a result he was remanded to Maghaberry Prison on April 22, 2014. This was his sixth time in custody since October 2010 - his previous stays ranged from two days to two months.

The Ombudsman found Lynch self-harmed both of the two days leading up to June 5, and had been taken to Craigavon Area Hospital each time but returned to prison afterwards.

The report quoted a priest, who had visited Lynch days before the major self-harming incident, saying: "He needs to be in a psychiatric hospital ... his condition is beyond anything the officers can cope with".

On June 3, Lynch tried to choke and drown himself, used a knife and fork to poke his eyes and face and slashed at his neck with a razor blade before being stopped by a cellmate.

On June 4, Lynch used a 15cm piece of broken glass from the inside of a flask he found in a bin in his cell to mutilate his genitals. The implement used was never found.

On June 5 he gouged both eyes out with his fingers, pulled at a wound he had inflicted on his scrotum the previous day, and ended up staggering around his cell with a bloody face and groin before he was taken to hospital.

In a statement, the Prisoner Ombudsman said the self-harm that Lynch inflicted over a three day period was "extreme and shocking".

"Much of Mr Lynch's main self-harm episode - he rendered himself blind and extended his groin injury - on June 5 was directly observed by prison officers," he said.

"Although they complied with a strict interpretation of Governor's Orders which require intervention if a situation is 'life-threatening' Mr Lynch did not meet the definition.

"It seems remarkable that the officers felt it was neither necessary nor appropriate to enter his cell to prevent him from self-harming further. Their duty of care was trumped by security concerns that appear to have had little basis in reality."

Lynch's father Damian said the family has received no apology from the Prison Service, claiming the only contact has been a summons for Sean over an alleged assault on an officer.

He said he would like to see the officers who stood by while his son blinded himself sacked.

"We, the family of Sean, believe that the Prison Authorities were grossly negligent in failing to deal with what were obvious, chronic, mental health care issues regarding Sean," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We believe this investigation clearly indicates wide ranging failures in the care of Sean by both the Prison Service and Health Service.

"We believe it is incredible, given Sean was on suicide watch, that prison staff refused to enter Sean's cell on June 5 when he was self-harming for 67 minutes to prevent him from blinding himself.

"We believe we are entitled to answers, to ensure that no other family will have to suffer like we have.

"The impact on the family and on Sean has been horrendous, our lives have been changed forever."

Prison Service Director General Sue McAllister said it was the most extreme case of self-harm she had come across in 30 years in prisons. "I hope that the recommendations to be taken forward will provide some comfort to Mr Lynch and his family that lessons have been learned from this tragic case," she said.

The South Eastern Health Trust also said it accepted the findings and recommendations relating to healthcare in the report.

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