Judge describes lack of resources for mental health issues a ‘disgrace’

Derry Courthouse.
Derry Courthouse.

A Crown Court judge has added his voice to the growing criticism of the North’s politicians by calling on them to “get off their backsides” to tackle what he described as the shambles within the NHS.

Judge Philip Babington, the Recorder of Derry, said it was a disgrace there was a lack of adequate health care facilities to deal appropriately with defendants who had mental health issues.

He was speaking at the city’s County Court where a thirty-eight years old local woman, Leona Devlin, from Spencer Road, was appealing against a six month jail term.

The sentence was imposed on her at the local Magistrate’s Court last month for committing two acts of disorderly behaviour in the Accident and Emergency Department of Altnagelvin Hospital last August and last December.

In the August incident, Devlin, who has twenty-eight previous criminal convictions, many of them for similar offences, grabbed a pair of scissors from a doctor and threatened to stab herself.

Police officers, who had taken her to hospital after she was found at Craigavon Bridge with several lacerations on her arms, had to apply a Taser to get her inside the hospital.

She also headbutted a toilet mirror and was verbally abusive to the officers and to medical staff in front of other patients.

In the December incident, again in the Accident and Emergency Department at Altnagelvin, Devlin, who had been taken there by the police, grabbed several medical needles and told medical staff “come any closer and I will stick these into my neck”.

A ward sister grabbed Devlin by the wrist enabling the police to restrain and handcuff her.

Appealing against the sentence, barrister Stephen Chapman said Devlin had been diagnosed with a particular personality disorder for which residential treatment was available in England and Wales, but not in the North.

The barrister said: “The District Judge who sentenced her has great sympathy for her because of the lack of adequate mental health facilities here.

“She does not pose a threat to anyone but herself, she is not a danger to the public. The police have a protocol in place for dealing with her in that they bring her immediately to the Accident and Emergency Department where, because of her mental health disorder, she commits disorderly behaviour.

“At that court hearing, when she was jailed, there were two psychiatrists and a social worker in court who said they have a care package for her when she is released from prison.

“The question is: is prison the appropriate place for her?”

Judge Babington then asked where else could she go?

He added: “The problem is what about the members of the public who have witnessed her offending in hospital?

“What about the health service which is a shambles because our politicians won’t get off their backsides and do something about it?

“Members of the public in accident and emergency are in discomfort, in pain and some are frail and they see this woman with needles and scissors behaving like she does.

“If she was in another part of the U.K., appropriate treatment would be available to her”, he said.

Addressing Devlin directly, Judge Babington said the court was aware, because of her many previous appearances, that she had personal problems.

“Unfortunately, in this country there is a lack of resources and facilities to help you on your way to resolving your issues and difficulties,” he said.

“That, in itself, is a disgrace and it is not your fault. However, what is your fault is that, when you were twice in the Accident and Emergency Department in this city, your behaviour was absolutely appalling.

“I accept you did not directly threaten members of the public or medical staff, rather you threatened to self harm, but that must have been frightening for members of the public to witness and your behaviour in front of them was inexcusable.

“You cannot behave in this way and you must listen to those medical experts who are there to assist you.

“Members of the NHS work very hard to provide a service to the people of this city and, as such, they require protection. With some hesitation, I am going to give you a final chance”, Judge Babington said.

He then suspended the six month jail sentence for two years.