Northern Ireland judge tells politicians to fix mental health 'shambles' as he condemns lack of resources
A Crown Court judge has told Northern Ireland's politicians to "get off their backsides" to tackle what he described as the shambles within the health system.
Judge Philip Babington, the Recorder of Derry, said the lack of adequate healthcare facilities to deal appropriately with defendants who had mental health issues was a disgrace.
He was speaking at the County Court in Londonderry, where Leona Devlin (38), from Spencer Road in the Waterside area of the city, was appealing against a six month jail term.
It had been imposed on her at the city's magistrates' court last month when she was sentenced for two acts of disorderly behaviour in Altnagelvin Hospital's A&E department last August and December.
In the August incident Devlin, who had 28 previous criminal convictions, grabbed a pair of scissors from a doctor and threatened to stab herself.
Police officers, who had taken her to hospital after she was found on Craigavon Bridge with several lacerations on her arms, had to apply a Taser to her inside the hospital.
In the December incident, again in the A&E, Devlin, who had been taken there by the police, grabbed several medical needles and told the medical staff "come any closer and I will stick these into my neck".
Appealing against the sentence, barrister Stephen Chapman said Devlin had been diagnosed with a particular personality disorder for which residential treatment was available in England and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland.
"The District Judge who sentenced her has great sympathy for her because of the lack of adequate mental health facilities here," Mr Chapman said. "She does not pose a threat to anyone but herself, she is not a danger to the public."
He added: "The question is, is prison the appropriate place for her?"
Judge Babington asked where else could she go.
"The problem is what about the members of the public who have witnessed her offending in hospital?" he said. "What about the health service which is a shambles because our politicians won't get off their backsides and do something about it?
"Members of the public in accident and emergency are in discomfort, in pain and some are frail and they see this woman with needles and scissors behaving like she does.
"If she was in another part of the UK, appropriate treatment would be available to her."
Addressing Devlin, Judge Babington said the court was aware of her personal problems.
"Unfortunately in this country there is a lack of resources and facilities to help you on your way to resolving your issues and difficulties," he said.
"That in itself is a disgrace and it is not your fault. However, what is your fault is that when you were twice in the accident and emergency department in this city your behaviour was absolutely appalling."
He suspended the six month jail sentence for two years.