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Prisoner's suicide threat voicemail heard too late

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A week-long inquest into his death began yesterday at Newtownards Court. (stock photo)

A week-long inquest into his death began yesterday at Newtownards Court. (stock photo)

A week-long inquest into his death began yesterday at Newtownards Court. (stock photo)

The former partner of a prisoner who died in HMP Magilligan has spoken of how she only heard a voicemail from him threatening suicide the day after he died.

Geoffrey Ellison (58) from Lancashire was found hanged in his cell on March 28, 2015, nine weeks before he was due for release. A week-long inquest into his death began yesterday at Newtownards Court.

The court heard how his partner Trudi Aslan had written a letter to end their relationship days before he died.

Prison officers on duty were warned verbally about the letter in advance and told to keep an eye on how Mr Ellison would react.

None of the officers on duty believed he showed signs of being at risk, a view shared by a fellow prisoner and friend.

A previous review by the Prisoner Ombudsman in 2016 raised concerns about why the letter's content was not formally raised with senior prison or health staff.

The father-of-one had been serving an eight-month sentence for possession of a class A drug. A former long-haul driver, customs officers arrested him in Belfast after finding £1.5m worth of cocaine in his van. A statement from Ms Aslan was read to the court, stating she only received his distressed voicemail on the morning he was discovered. She called the prison immediately, but was told he had already been dead for hours.

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A statement read to the court heard they had an "up and down" relationship and he had long suffered from depression, including a previous suicide attempt and self-harm. Prison staff at Magilligan had not been made aware of this.

Ms Aslan said her partner had been "petrified" the Irish people he was working for would "get" him over the loss of the cocaine. She also said she received threats over the phone and concerns for her granddaughter's safety caused her to end the relationship.

On the morning of March 28 she heard the voicemail from Mr Ellison saying he would kill himself if he couldn't move back in with her in England and "I'll always love you".

Former State Pathologist Professor Jack Crane carried out the post-mortem examination. He said he was satisfied the death of Mr Ellison was caused by hanging, and did not believe a high dose of antidepressants he had taken was a factor.

The court heard how Mr Ellison had been seen 37 times by medical staff between September 2014 and March 2015, but none raised any concerns over his mental health.

Prison censor Wilson Thompson had read Ms Aslan's letter and warned staff to keep an eye on Mr Ellison.

Not knowing Mr Ellison personally, he left the decision on how to a respond in the hands of residential staff.

Prison officer Joanne Kerrigan was told about the letter over the phone. She said it seemed appropriate to talk with the staff on duty instead of making a formal record.

"I never expected Geoff would have taken his own life. He didn't come across as that type of person," she told the court.

Fellow officer Tracy McCrory said she agreed Mr Ellison did not seem at risk.

A statement from prisoner and friend Mark Bell said Mr Ellison had been looking forward to his release.

But after receiving Ms Aslan's letter, he said Mr Ellison had torn up photos and smashed presents he had made for her in prison.

He discovered his friend was dead the next morning when he failed to open his cell door for inspection.

The inquest continues.


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