Prison bullying claims 'not probed'
Published 20/11/2012 | 00:22
Prison bosses did not adequately investigate the bullying of an inmate in Northern Ireland who took his own life, an inquiry has found.
Samuel Carson, 19, from Belfast, was repeatedly targeted with verbal and physical abuse at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre because he was accused of sex offences involving a minor.
He was struck on the head with a ceramic ashtray, punched and threatened with having his throat cut, said a report by Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe. Despite this, numerous other threats reported against the troubled victim were not investigated, the inquiry found.
His family said his treatment before he hanged himself from a belt in his cell in May last year destroyed his spirit. "Bullying of a vulnerable person with serious health issues and not adequately supervised in a supposedly secure and safe environment is shameful," they said.
He and his family were threatened by loyalist paramilitaries in the South East Antrim area and he was unable to find a place to live while released on bail because of the danger posed by members of the community who believed he was a rapist. Rape charges were later withdrawn.
Mr Carson had split up with his girlfriend and mother of their two young children, there was a history of domestic abuse, and he believed he would not be able to see his young daughter.
His decision to hang himself may also have been influenced by his use of prescription medication for depression which can encourage suicidal thoughts, the report said. It also suggested he may not have intended to kill himself, but to register a "cry for help" in the mistaken belief somebody was about to check his cell.
The report recorded that bullying investigations were abandoned in the jail when Mr Carson withdrew allegations due to concern he would be subjected to more severe abuse. Investigations were not effective and there was no evidence that recommended action was implemented by staff, the 151-page document added.
Prison Service director general Sue McAllister said: "It is quite clear from the ombudsman's report that Samuel was subjected to both physical and verbal abuse from other prisoners while he was at Hydebank Wood and the report does, in parts, make difficult reading.
"I am under no illusions that bullying can happen in prisons, with those convicted of or charged with particular offences particularly vulnerable. We do however have a duty of care to those who are sent to prison by the courts and we must do all that we can to protect them as far as possible through exercising the highest professional standards."