There have been calls for an urgent investigation into the death of a Maghaberry prisoner, who collapsed in his cell at the County Antrim prison last week. The 30-year-old was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital, where he died on Thursday afternoon.
The family of a west Belfast man Liam Mulhern say they have been left in the dark about the circumstances of his sudden death, which has added to their distress.
Mr Mulhern was in his final year of a 10-year jail sentence. He suffered from several health problems, including spina bifida. He had contacted his family just hours before he collapsed and was said to be in good spirits, and looking forward to a visit from his daughter due to take place yesterday morning.
A father of one, Liam was first imprisoned for participating in armed actions at the age of 15 years old. A member of a breakaway faction of the Continuity IRA, he was being held in a non-military section of Maghaberry. He had applied for a transfer to Portlaoise prison.
A statement issued by members of the breakaway group, appearing on the website of RSF-Limerick, described him as a “life-long, committed, true Irish Republican”.
They said his death was “a direct result of him being mistreated by the British forces of occupation, in Maghaberry concentration camp in occupied Ireland”.
The prison authorities had been aware of Liam’s health problems, which they said had been deliberately neglected. “This mistreatment of a prisoner of war by the British forces of occupation contravenes the Geneva conventions and amounts to a war crime.”
Liam’s application to transfer to Portlaoise to be near his seven year old daughter had been approved by the 26 County authorities under an existing prison transfer agreement, but had been delayed for over 18 months. The RSF-Limerick group blamed MI5 (British military intelligence) for preventing the transfer.
“Liam Mulhern was a tireless campaigner for political status for Irish Republican POW’s along with campaigning to have all Irish Republican POW’s segregated from Loyalist and criminal prisoners,” they said. “Liam Mulhern resisted Britain’s attempts to criminalise Irish Republican POWs and the struggle for Irish freedom, to his final hour.”
Kevin Winters or KRW Law, acting on behalf of the prisoner’s father Frank, criticised the lack of information given to the family over the death.
It was rumoured that he was found face down in his prison cell with no heartbeat, and may have spent some time in that position.
“Our client has been unable to ascertain any details about his son’s death other than that he was transferred to hospital after collapsing,” he said.
“The family need immediate and full disclosure about the circumstances of Liam’s collapse, treatment and death while in the care of the prison service.”
Last year, Liam had a small heart attack and often complained with chest pain and trouble breathing. Although scheduled to receive further tests and scans to determine the problem, he never received them. Injections for pain and an othopaedic mattress were also denied to him.
His coffin was draped in a tricolour flag on Sunday night before a military funeral on Monday. Photographs from the event have shown a final salute over the open coffin in Dunmurry, on the outskirts of west Belfast.
A statement on behalf of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry expressed their sadness at Liam’s death, and pointed out they had recently warned over the dangerous maltreatment of prisoners at the jail.
“While it is not yet confirmed as to the cause of such an untimely death, Republican Prisoner representatives call for a sufficiently empowered body to examine fully every circumstance relating to Liam’s death and his disgraceful treatment throughout his imprisonment,” they said. “To Liam’s family we offer our sincere condolences.”
Prisoners at Maghaberry have repeatedly condemned the treatment of ill prisoners, including the use of forced strip searches and other heavy-handed tactics when prisoners are required to seek hospital treatment.
A long-running dispute over attempts by staff to limit movement on the Republican wing, including the use of strip-searches, has been escalating in recent months.
One prisoner, Tyrone PoW Gavin Coyle, who is being held in isolation at Maghaberry, has been subjected to strip searches even when being escorted to video-link facilities to speak to lawyers, and then returned to the isolation unit. This week he finally received the go-ahead to mount a legal challenge to his treatment.
Judicial review proceedings will centre on the strip searches around those visits. The process is in breach of his privacy entitlements under the European Convention on Human Rights, his lawyers have argued.