A judge in Derry has described provision for people with mental health difficulties as ‘a disgrace’ and said it was ‘a legacy of Thatcher and an ideological drive to dismantle mental health services’.
District Judge Barney McElholm was speaking during a case involving Naomi Graham (34) of Ballyoan House in Derry who admitted two charges of assaulting police on June 17 this year.
During Friday’s sitting, the court heard that police were called to an address where the owner asked for Graham to be removed from the premises.
Police did so and she became aggressive and hit one officer on the shin and bit another.
Defence barrister Mr. Eoghain Devlin said there was ‘a total lack of appropriate care’ in the community for people like Graham.
Mr. Devlin said there should be an option for dealing with someone like Graham through the Health Service but it seemed the court was ‘the last stop for people with appalling mental health difficulties’.
The barrister said that the question had to be asked what could be done to stop people harming themselves and the community.
He said the report on Graham highlighted her being used by other people.
He added that prison simply does not seem to be the appropriate answer.
Judge McElholm said it was a legacy of Thatcher.
Mr. Devlin said there was ‘absolutely no provision for mental health facilities and it was left to the criminal justice system which was a very poor reflection on our society’.
The defence barrister added: “The criminal justice system is simply not equipped to deal with people like this.
“There is a hopeless deficiency in legislation and it seems all politicians do is jump up and down and complain we don’t sentence people to long enough, and when they are told that will entail another prison being built they say we are sentencing too many.”
Judge McElholm imposed a sentence of 12 months probation at Friday’s sitting of the Magistrate’s Court in Bishop Street.