Belfast Telegraph

Inmate death case: ex-officer free

A former prison officer in Northern Ireland who lay on a mattress while an inmate he was supposed to be monitoring made repeated attempts to kill himself has avoided imprisonment.

Daniel Barclay was stationed at a special observation suite used for watching inmates at risk in Maghaberry high security jail in Co Antrim on July 31 2008. He was also seen viewing television, making a sandwich and chatting to other staff, a judge told a court.

Colin Bell eventually succeeded in committing suicide at the third attempt and the warder pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office.

Judge Patrick Lynch told Craigavon Crown Court: "There were individual and systematic failures which combined to bring about this tragic case."

He said the accused had a responsibility to carry out his duties as a night custody officer in the 24-hour unit.

"This I find he singularly failed to do."

Bell's case prompted major reform of how potentially suicidal prisoners are handled in Northern Ireland. Several high-level reports have been completed into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Barclay was responsible for monitoring CCTV images from a so-called safer cell used to house vulnerable prisoners.

On July 31 2008, it contained 34-year-old Bell, who was serving a sentence for manslaughter.

The room had been adapted to limit the potential for self-harm. Yet the prisoner succeeded in killing himself.

The judge said for much of the period when he was trying to commit suicide Barclay was at the other end of the room from where the security monitors were.

He was seen lying down, chatting to colleagues, making a sandwich and watching television, Judge Lynch added.

"It appears that the accused, before the alarm was raised, made some entries in the log which were retrospective and (a) violation of proper procedures."

Barclay's defence had argued that he had been inadequately briefed about Bell, that other people had also been in the monitoring room and failed to make proper observations for a longer period of time, and that the bedding was not placed there by him.

He had no previous convictions and was remorseful, the judge said.

He added: "I accept that failures of others together with systematic failures played a part; Mr Barclay is, however, the only person before me in relation to a criminal allegation."

He was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment, suspended for three years.

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