Prison boss ‘sorry’ for Sean Lynch injuries

Sean Lynch at home in Derry.
Sean Lynch at home in Derry.
1
Have your say

The head of the North’s prisons said she’s “sorry” for the “life-changing” and “shocking” injuries a Derry prisoner inflicted on himself while in jail.

Sue McAllister, Director General of the NI Prison Service, has also revealed that she’s offered to meet the family of Sean Lynch who blinded himself in his jail cell at Maghaberry Prison two years ago.

The prisons chief said she hopes the Lynch family will accept her invitation and agree to meet with her before she leaves her post at the end of October. Ms McAllister was speaking as she gave evidence to the Stormont Justice Committee yesterday afternoon.

During the hearing, various committee members voiced their disquiet at the prison authorities’ response to Mr Lynch’s self-harming.

Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney branded the episode an “absolute travesty” while the committee’s deputy chair, Pam Cameron (DUP), said reading the “distressing” details of Mr Lynch’s injuries had made her feel “physically sick.”

Last month, Prisoner Ombudsman, Tom McGonigle, published a harrowing report detailing a catalogue of failures by the prison authorities.

Over a three-days period at Maghaberry in 2014, when Mr Lynch was on remand for breaching bail conditions, he inflicted “extreme and shocking” injuries on himself.

As well as injuries to his eyes, which have left him permanently blind, he suffered an 8cm cut to his groin area.

Mr McGonigle’s report also revealed that two prison officers watched as the Derry man injured himself on more than 20 occasions in an “ordeal” that lasted for over an hour.

Ms McAllister said it was “way beyond” what prison officers had been trained for.

The DUP’s Pam Cameron says she felt “physically sick” reading a report detailing the horrific injuries a Derry prisoner inflicted on himself while in a top security jail.

Over a three-day period at Maghaberry Prison in 2014, when Sean Lynch was on remand for breaching bail conditions, he inflicted “extreme and shocking” injuries on himself.

As well as injuries to his eyes, which have left him permanently blind, he suffered an 8cm cut to his groin region.

Last month, the Prisoner Ombudsman published a report revealing that Mr. Lynch self-harmed over three days.

The report said that, on the final day, two prison officers watched as he injured himself on more than 20 occasions in an “ordeal” that lasted for over an hour.

Prison officers “directly observed” the inmate for more than a quarter of the time, the report added.

CCTV cameras showed Sean Lynch shouting and crying in pain and banging his cell door, but the officers did not try to stop him.

“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.”

Yesterday, at Stormont, the Assembly’s justice committee heard evidence from the head of the NI Prisons Service, Sue McAllister, on Mr Lynch’s case.

She said she was “sorry” for the “life-changing” injuries he sustained while in prison and offered to meet his family.

Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney said the prison authorities’ response to Mr Lynch’s situation had been “negligent” and “totally unacceptable”.

He queried if the episode could have “damaged” public confidence in the Prison Service and “set back” the project of prison reform.

The committee’s deputy chairperson, the DUP’s Pam Cameron, said the extent of the injuries sustained by Mr Lynch and outlined in some detail in the Ombudsman’s report were “completely distressing” and had made her feel “physically sick”.

Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan said it was clear that both the Prison Service and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT) - the local health authority - had failed in their obligations to ensure the care of Sean Lynch.