Belfast Telegraph

Parents' fury at delayed inquest into fatal prison van fall

By Michael McHugh

The parents of a prisoner who died falling from a police custody van with a faulty cell door have criticised Northern Ireland's senior coroner after an inquest was abandoned because the vehicle had not been examined.

It will now be tracked down then inspected by the firm which installed the secure unit.

Coroner John Leckey said there was no alternative to discharging the jury – after a full day's evidence – when fresh questions arose over whether the doors were effective. A new inquest will be held as soon as possible.

Paul Somerville (21) managed to exit the PSNI 'cell on wheels' in Maghera in January last year. He died in hospital three days after sustaining serious head injuries.

His father Desmond and mother Gwen claimed the coroner should have pondered the legal issues earlier.

Their solicitor John Macmanus said: "The issue raised this morning in relation to the design of the cell van was within the (inquest) papers which the family take the view should have been considered before now. It appears that that was something that the coroner should have been aware of.

"They are anxious to see that the inquest is relisted as soon as possible as this has been a very distressing time for both of them and their extended family."

Mr Leckey told Mr Somerville's relatives at Ballymena courthouse: "I recognise that a decision of this nature does not happen too often but can add to the distress the bereaved family feels.

"In consultation with the various legal representatives this morning... I think it is agreed that there was no alternative."

The trainee electrician managed to get out through the back of the adapted Volkswagen van minutes after two officers picked him up at his house on Crewe Road to take him back to Maghaberry Prison.

The drugs offender had been recalled by parole authorities for a breach of a release licence.

A key question to be decided is how he exited the vehicle, after what his father said was probably a deliberate "spur of the moment" decision to try to flee.

A spokeswoman for the coroner said: "Mr Leckey has directed a technical examination of the vehicle be carried out, involving a representative from England who carried out modification of the police vehicle."

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