Northern Ireland

David Ford's 'regret' over prisoner's suicide

Gates of Maghaberry Prison
Image caption The man was being held in Maghaberry Prison when he took his life.

The NI Prisoner Ombudsman has made several recommendations following the death of a 36-year-old man in Maghaberry prison last year.

The man, known only as Prisoner B, was one of 48 Chinese nationals arrested after a police operation in June 2008.

Pauline McCabe's report said he had no clear guidance or expectation of what the outcome of his trial would be.

He took his life nine months later. Justice Minister David Ford expressed regret at the suicide.

The Prisoner Ombudsam's report made recommendations on the use of translation services and arrangements for prisoners with mental health issues.

The report identified the length of the police investigation and the time the case took coming to trial as possible factors which motivated the prisoner to take his own life.

It made nine recommendations to the Prison Service, some of which involved the South Eastern Health Trust, all of which have been accepted.

David Ford said the report had "identified learning points".

At the request of the inmate's family, the man is not being named.

The director general of the Prison Service, Robin Masefield, has published an action plan in response to the recommendations in the Ombudsman's report.

Three of the recommendations have already been implemented, while the others are being addressed.

Mr Masefield said the Justice Department was working to reduce the time it took to get cases to court.

He said that, proportionally, twice as many prisoners are on remand in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK.

"This is something we are giving high priority to and I certainly know that my colleagues in the police and prosecution service, and in particular the court service, are looking very closely at work that can be put in hand to seek to reduce the delays in the system," Mr Masefield said.

Mr Ford said he wished to thank the Ombudsman for her report.

"While the prisoner was well cared for in prison, the report has identified some learning points," he said.

"He was a vulnerable prisoner who had the added difficulties of having little or no English and being so far from home.

"Staff did much good work with him during his time in prison and he was allowed a free 10-minute phone call home on a weekly basis," he added.

"The Ombudsman has, however, identified some shortcomings in relation to data recording and these are being addressed in the action plan which is being published in response to her report."

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