Irish Republican News · September 17, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Maghaberry horror leaves prisoner blind


An “extreme and shocking” case of neglect has been reported at Maghaberry jail after prison staff watched but failed to intervene while a mentally ill prisoner blinded and mutilated himself.

Sean Lynch, a non-political prisoner from Derry, inflicted self-harm over three days, but prison staff took no action. According to a report released this week, two prison warders watched as the 23-year-old nationalist injured himself on more than 20 occasions in a nightmare that lasted for over an hour on the final day.

CCTV cameras showed Mr Lynch (pictured, left) shouting and crying in pain and banging his cell door, but the warders did not try to stop him. They “directly observed” him for more than a quarter of the time, the report added.

“It seems remarkable that several experienced Northern Ireland Prison Service officers, including a senior officer, all felt it was neither necessary nor appropriate to enter his cell to prevent Mr Lynch from self-harming further,” said Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle, in his report.

“Their duty of care was trumped by security concerns that appear to have had little basis in reality.”

Mr Lynch used his fingers and thumbs to damage his eyes, and used a piece of broken glass to injure his groin. His father Damien (pictured, right) said that “everything had been taken” away from his son. “His sight is completely gone, his life is completely gone,” he said. “I have no faith, I don’t think anyone would have any faith if this had happened to their son.”

The report said the incident in June 2014 followed the deterioration of Mr Lynch’s mental health. It identifies serious shortcomings in the treatment of Mr Lynch, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness.

Independent councillor Gary Donnelly, who has worked closely with Mr Lynch’s family, called for action against the prison staff involved.

The case follows a number of deaths by suicide at the prison in recent years. However, Prison Service director general Sue McAllister said she had never come across a case of such “extreme self-harm.”

“It is important that the service learns from the findings of the Prisoner Ombudsman,” Ms McAllister said.

In a related development, Sinn Fein’s party chairman Declan Kearney visited Maghaberry jail with other members of his party. Sinn Fein said the visit was a fact-finding exercise to examine the pace of prison reform.

“While much progress has been made in improving the quality of the prison environment for both prisoners and staff, it is clear there is some distance to go,” Mr Kearney said. “Both political and ordinary prisoners, as well as members of staff, are all entitled to be treated with the highest standards of equality, respect and dignity.”

The group also met miscarriage of justice victims Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, who remain behind bars following their wrongful conviction for the murder of a PSNI policeman in Craigavon in 2009.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster described the Sinn Fein delegations’ visit to the prison as a “publicity stunt” and said it had offended the widow of the victim. She branded the visit as nothing more than a stunt aimed at shoring up support among republicans.

“They are trying to appeal to elements of their constituency which they are clearly concerned about at the moment,” she said. “That is a matter for them but I think they should very much reflect on the fact that they have caused a lot of pain and a lot anguish.”

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