Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog blasts jail after suicides

Mistakes that led to a prisoner's suicide inside Northern Ireland's top security jail were repeated when another inmate took his life only a year later, a watchdog found.

Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe said it was very regrettable that issues the NI Prison Service pledged to address following the death of Colin Bell, 34, inside Maghaberry were still a factor when 50-year-old John Deery killed himself in a cell in the healthcare unit last year.

Deery, a convicted sex offender from Derry, hanged himself with his shoelaces while medics who were meant to be monitoring him attended a medical emergency last August.

The death of convicted murderer Bell in August 2008 sparked a major investigation which identified a series of serious failings, including staff who were lying on beds and watching TV when they were supposed to be watching the vulnerable prisoner.

On the back of that incident, Mrs McCabe recommended a number changes to the regime. Many of those had already been flagged up as issues of concern in a review of non-natural deaths in custody in 2005.

But despite these and prison bosses' commitments to take action, the ombudsman said a number of the problems were still evident in the Deery case.

Deery, who had a history of mental problems and suicide attempts, had served his sentence but had been rearrested a week before his death on suspicion of breaking the terms of his licence. The ombudsman raised concern that on his return to jail he was not re-prescribed an anti-depressant he had been taking until the day he killed himself.

He also had not been assessed by a psychiatrist until five days after returning to Maghaberry when good practice for vulnerable inmates required an examination within around 48 hours.

Mrs McCabe found that Deery had only been out of his cell for 11 minutes or less on each of the four days prior to his death - apparently over fears of attack from other prisoners.

Noting medical opinion on the negative impact isolation can have on suicidal prisoners, she said more effort should have been made to engage him in occupational therapies.

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