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Drug overdose led to inmate’s death in cell: watchdog

By Claire McNeilly

An investigation into the death of a 25-year-old man in his cell has found that he died of an illegal drugs overdose after smuggling tablets into prison.

Richard Bernard Gilmore’s body was found at Magilligan Prison on January 11, 2009, just over two weeks ahead of his release date.

His death prompted an inquiry into drugs in the jail after a plastic container with tablets was discovered near his body.

A custody officer said Mr Gilmore was “off his face” on narcotics for some time before he was found slumped unconscious in the Co Londonderry compound.

Publishing her findings, Pauline McCabe, the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, also voiced support for random voluntary drug testing for all inmates.

“Mr Gilmore died as a result of an accidental drugs overdose resulting from a combination of prescribed and illicit drugs which had been brought into the prison,” said Ms McCabe.

In relation to the fatal overdose, one of the inmates claimed Gilmore brought the drugs into the prison himself.

“From the time Richard came back off home leave he was off his head,” he said.

“He was slurring his words and wobbling all over the place when he was moving about the wing. Richard was taking drugs steady from when he came back and was handing them out to a few of his mates also.”

Mr Gilmore was checked a number of times by wardens but despite this he could not be saved when the overdose was discovered.

Reacting to criticism, clinical reviewer Dr Peter Saul said Mr Gilmore's treatment had been appropriate.

“In this case earlier entry to the cell is unlikely to have made any difference, but might in other circumstances,” he said.

“It is impossible to determine the time of death other than to say that Mr Gilmore is likely to have been dead at the time of discovery.”

On putting Gilmore into the recovery position, the custody officer assisting the nurse found a yellow plastic container on the bed containing tablets.

Gilmore had a long history of drug problems when he was admitted to prison.

He spent two days on home leave as he was nearing the end of his sentence. A prisoner said he returned with 200 diazepam or ecstasy tablets known as “loyalist blues”, cannabis and other pills. He claimed these were concealed in Gilmore's body.

Prison Service Director General Robin Masefield said the Prison Service “deeply regrets” the death of Mr Gilmore.

“Our duty of care is taken very seriously and minimising the supply of drugs within prisons remains a high priority for the Northern Ireland Prison Service,” said Mr Masefield.

“Since Mr Gilmore's death, the Prison Service has brought forward a number of improvements to its policies and practices to support and meet the needs of vulnerable prisoners.

“It has introduced a new process, Supporting Prisoners At Risk (SPAR), to improve and address the needs of prisoners within our care.”

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