Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Death blaze prisoners 'not charged'

An injured inmate is carried as he arrives at hospital after the dealy fire(AP)
Inmates' relatives wait for news(AP)
A forensic worker stands next to bags containing bodies of inmates killed during the fire(AP)

Many of the prisoners in a Honduran jail where fire killed more than 350 inmates had never been charged, let alone convicted, according to a Honduran government report.

The report, sent to the United Nations this month, said 57% of some 800 inmates of the Comayagua farm prison north of the capital were either awaiting trial or being held as suspected gang members.

A fire that witnesses said was started by an inmate, tore through the prison on Tuesday night, burning and suffocating screaming men in their locked cells as rescuers desperately searched for keys. Officials confirmed 358 dead, making it the world's deadliest prison fire in a century.

Honduran authorities said they are still investigating other possible causes based on prisoner accounts, including that the fire could have been set in collusion with guards to stage a prison break. "All of this isn't confirmed, but we're looking into it," said attorney general's spokesman Melvin Duarte said.

Survivors told horrific tales of climbing walls to break the sheet metal roofing and escape, only to see prisoners in other cell blocks being burned alive. Inmates were found stuck to the roofing, their bodies fused to the metal.

From the time firefighters received a call at 10:59 pm local time, the rescue was marred by human error and poor conditions.According to the report, obtained exclusively by the AP, on any given day there were about 800 inmates in a facility built for 500. There were only 51 guards by day and just 12 at night - the case at the time of the fire.

The prison has no medical or mental health care and the budget allows less than one dollar per day per prisoner for food. Prisoners only needed to bear a simple tattoo to be incarcerated under the strict Honduran anti-gang laws, the report said. The UN condemns the practice as a violation of international law.

"This tragedy could have been averted or at least not been so catastrophic if there had been an emergency system in all the penitentiaries in the country," human rights prosecutor German Enamorado told HRN Radio.

National prison system director Danilo Orellana declined to comment on the supervision or the crowded conditions in Comayagua, a prison farm where inmates grew corn and beans. President Porfirio Lobo has suspended Orellana and other top prison officials.

Inside the prison, charred walls and debris showed the path of the fire, which burned through six barracks that had been crammed with 70 to 105 inmates each in four-level bunk beds.

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