A republican political prisoner at Maghaberry has detailed a traumatic experience at the hands of prison warders after he sought medical attention for a suspected heart attack.
Ta McWilliams, who has been taking medication since he suffered a heart attack last year, said that on Sunday 31st May, he began suffering severe chest pains and was take to the emergency room in the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.
He said he was handcuffed to a prison warder and was surrounded by three warders at all times, including when he was undergoing medical tests.
“This afforded me no privacy and was a clear breach of patient/doctor confidentiality,” he said. “The three screws’ presence remained constant throughout my ordeal, even when I went to the toilet.”
After an 18 hour wait on a hospital trolley, he again began experiencing chest pains and requested the handcuffs be removed, but to no avail. He was then asked to do a treadmill exercise, but was unable to do so. He was subsequently discharged from hospital without treatment and returned to Maghaberry, where he was strip-searched.
“Despite still suffering from severe chest pains, with inconclusive medical tests hours earlier, I was then forcibly strip-searched by a team of six riot screws as another filmed my degradation,” he said.
“This was the culmination of psychological and physical neglect over the previous 24 hours, before being returned to my comrades on Roe 4.”
The strip search apparently contravenes the public position of Six-County Justice Minister David Ford, who has said there should be no automatic strip searching on discharge, going on home leave or en route to the hospital.
At the time, he claimed this would be “consistent with what is being done across the Prison Service where much more is being done on an intelligence led and evidence based approach rather than blanket approaches to things”.
Mr McWilliams said: “Surely the question must be asked: What better “intelligence led and evidence based approach” is there than having three jail staff present, including one handcuffed to me, at all times?”
ID RULING UPHELD
Meanwhile, another prisoner, Christy O’Kane, has won a judicial review hearing in the High Court regarding the breach of prisoners’ rights by the prison authorities following assaults on him and other republican prisoners in February of this year. The court also granted an order to compel the prison to implement adequate means for the identification of staff by their uniform by December.
In the course of the attack upon him on 1 February, Mr O’Kane was kicked in the testicles and subjected to verbal abuse by a prison officer, one of a group dressed in dark boiler suits, black boots and helmets, wearing ear pieces and carrying truncheons. He passed blood in his urine for several days following this incident and was denied access to his solicitor or to appropriate medical treatment or medication for several days, a matter which gave rise to the judicial review proceedings.
His lawyers told the court that had been unable to identify the particular prison officer who violently assaulted him because of the absence of any identification marks on his uniform.
“The High Court has now formally declared that prisoner’s rights had been violated and the effect of this legal action will ensure transparency and accountability in that prisoners can now have complaints investigated which are capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those officers responsible,” they said in a statement.