Belfast Telegraph

Prisoner Brockwell unlawfully held in virtual solitary confinement for 8 months, court rules

By Alan Erwin

A prisoner who escaped from a Dublin hospital has been unlawfully placed in virtual solitary confinement for eight months at a Northern Ireland jail, a High Court judge ruled on Thursday.

Mr Justice Maguire held that the authorities have so far failed to show the use of such a "drastic" option was necessary for Derek Brockwell.

He confirmed his intention to quash the decision to keep the 55-year-old in a unit restricting his association at HMP Magahberry.

Prison chiefs are to be given a chance to reconsider and potentially make a legally justified decision before the court order is formalised.

Brockwell, a Glaswegain, is in jail awaiting trial for robbery in Belfast.

He is accused of carrying out raids armed with a knife before police Tasered and recaptured him at a bar in the city in February 2015.

He was taken to hospital for treatment to stab wounds reported to have been self-inflicted as police moved in to arrest him.

The alleged offences were committed after he escaped from custody in the Republic of Ireland.

The court heard how he fled while attending Dublin's Tallaght Hospital for medical treatment to a diabetic condition.

During the incident two prison guards escorting him to the appointment were seriously injured by a sharp-edged weapon.

Following his recapture Brockwell was returned to Frankland Prison in Durham.

But in October 2016 he was transferred to Maghaberry in order to face trial for the alleged robberies.

Under Rule 32 of the prison regulations he was put into the Care and Supervision Unit (CSU).

As part of that regime he remains in his cell 23 hours a day, receives one jour exercise, and has no contact with ordinary prisoners.

Brockwell's lawyers challenged the lawfulness of the decision to place and retain him on Rule 32 conditions.

Backing their case, Mr Justice Maguire described the Prison Service's approach to the case as "unsatisfactory".

He said it was difficult to believe the decision to house Brockwell in the CSU was not the subject of pre-planning and prior discussion within Maghaberry before he arrived in Northern Ireland.

"While the court has no doubt that the applicant is a person with a propensity to seek to escape and a willingness to use violence to effect his purpose, and while the court is willing to accept that he is a person who needs to be appropriately controlled, these factors by themselves do not demonstrate that necessarily the only solution to the problem he represents is incarceration on Rule 32," Mr Justice Maguire said.

Information provided in the proceedings is deficient in showing the step was required, he held.

Concluding that the invocation of Rule 32 should be quashed on both substantive and procedural grounds, the judge suspended making his formal order to allow the prison authority to "take stock of its position".

But he stressed: "I want it done quickly. This man is still on Rule 32 as we speak.

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