09/01/2009

Prison Suicide Shock As Warders Slept Or Drank Tea

The suicide of an at-risk inmate at Maghaberry jail has led to an investigation, which this week concluded, by publishing recommendations for a disciplinary investigation into the role of two senior staff.

NI Prison Ombudsman Pauline McCabe has made a total of 44 recommendations following the death of Colin Bell last August in the Co Antrim facility, including scrutiny of the roles of Governor Alan Longwell and his deputy, Steve Davis.

Colin Bell, who was serving a life sentence for murder, hanged himself at the fourth attempt while staff who were supposed to be monitoring him slept.

The 34-year-old was on critical suicide watch and was supposed to be monitored every 15 minutes, but staff failed to do so.
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Disciplinary proceedings are among the recommendations made in the 182-page report by Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe, which was published last Friday and initially saw 17 prison staff being suspended from duty following an internal investigation that started in October - although not all of those suspended were on duty when Mr Bell died.

It is understood that video camera footage examined as part of the investigation shows prison staff lying in bed watching television while they were supposed to be on duty.

Prison officers not only watched TV, but chatted, drank tea and, in one case, rested in a makeshift bed as Colin Bell made repeated suicide attempts over the course of a final hour in his cell, while staff at Maghaberry failed to carry out checks on him.

CCTV footage showed that over a period of 14 minutes from 10.57 pm, Mr Bell was holding a ligature and made three attempts to hang himself. His fourth, successful, suicide attempt was at 11.41pm. Before this, he had stood in front of the CCTV camera and very deliberately placed the ligature over his head.

He was not spotted until 38 minutes after his fourth, successful, attempt to hang himself.

Mr Bell also tried to contact the Samaritans 73 times in a 30-hour period before his death via a link-up facility in his cell. Almost all of these calls are believed to have resulted in an engaged tone.

(BMcC/JM)

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