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Mother of Maghaberry prisoner who died after being restrained is granted court hearing over officers' anonymity

The mother of a man who died in jail following a restraint procedure today cleared the first stage in her High Court battle to have the warders involved publicly named.

Elizabeth McDonnell was granted leave to seek a judicial review of decisions to maintain anonymity and screening for prison officers who testified at the inquest into her son's death.

Antrim man James McDonnell, 36, died in HMP Magaberry in March 1996 after suffering a heart attack.

A short time earlier officers had subjected him to a control and restraint procedure, with a post mortem identifying neck injuries.

Following an inquest earlier this year a jury found neck compression and the initial restraint contributed to the subsequent fatal heart attack.

Senior coroner John Leckey has referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate whether any criminal offence was committed.

But even though Mr McDonnell's family are satisfied with the outcome of the tribunal, they want to quash the decision to grant anonymity and screening to all prison officers who requested it.

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Identities were withheld on the basis of the risk to their lives.

Karen Quinlivan QC, for Mrs McDonnell, argued that there was no justification for not naming them, arguing that some are still serving and dealing with convicted criminals and dissident republicans who know who they are.

She claimed one of the witnesses, identified only as Officer H, has a high media profile which renders his bid to remain shielded invalid.

"If you are publicly known you can't retrospectively apply for anonymity in order to seek to secure that which has already been abandoned," Ms Quinlivan argued.

She insisted that those officers involved should be named, irrespective of whether any criminal proceedings follow.

"Serving (and retired) prison officers were engaged in conduct where the deceased was assaulted," Ms Quinlivan said.

"There should be publicity around that in terms of their being named."

Counsel for the coroner argued that once the inquest is over his function is finished.

Gerald Simpson QC also argued that the challenge is pointless if it is held that there is a real and immediate risk to the officers.

He told Mr Justice Treacy: "The effectiveness of the inquest has not been undermined on account of these rulings.

"Your Lordship is being asked to give a declaration with nothing substantive at the end of it."

Paddy Lyttle QC, for the Prison Service, agreed there was no basis for any procedural irregularity in an inquest which complied with human rights requirements.

Following submissions, however, the judge held that an arguable case had been established by Mrs McDonnell's legal team.

Granting leave to apply for a judicial review, he said: "It seems to me this is a case that does merit further consideration."

A full two-day hearing will now take place early next year.

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