More resources needed to address mental health issues - Judge

Bishop Street courthouse.
Bishop Street courthouse.

A judge has said more resources and a legislative framework are needed to address mental health issues through the justice system.

District Judge Barney McElholm made the comment as he adjourned the sentencing of 22-year-old Christopher Hamer for a psychiatric report.

Hamer approached police waving a hammer above his head, forcing them to draw their firearms.

Judge McElholm said it is clear the defendant ‘is not mentally functioning the way that he should be’.

Hamer, of Fernabbey Drive, pleaded guilty to possessing an offensive weapon and disorderly behaviour on September 9.

He also admitted a further charge of assaulting police on October 14.

Judge McElholm said the 22-year-old ‘could have been shot’ as a result of his behaviour but if he presents himself for crisis mental health treatment ‘they will keep him two days and then kick him out again saying he isn’t mentally ill and he won’t be any further forward’.

He added: “This society has to make up its mind - if we want the court to try to solve the problems of this society or to keep locking people up for short periods of time.”

The judge said more resources and a legislative framework are required to address such issues in the justice system.

Judge McElholm told the court ‘that is what happens in a civilised society where they confront the issues rather than running away from them’.

Derry Magistrate’s Court heard the 22-year-old left his home with a hammer in the early hours of the morning.

Police approached him on the Northland Road and he began waving the hammer above his head. The officers drew their weapons until he dropped the hammer.

In October, police received a call from a member of the public who was concerned for Hamer’s safety.

As officers approached him, the 22-year-old scaled a drain pipe to get onto the roof of a building.

A short time later he began shouting that he had fallen off the roof.

Hamer was abusive to police and kicked one of them on the leg as he was being taken to hospital.

Defence counsel Eoghan Devlin said ‘there is no logic’ to the offences committed by his client.

He told the court most of the incidents ‘start out in a low-level, innocuous way’ and escalate into ‘something very serious very quickly’.

The barrister said Hamer is ‘behaving in a highly destructive fashion towards other people and to himself’.

He urged the court to seek a medical report ‘to give some insight’ into why this is happening.

Hamer was released with a number of stringent bail conditions until November 24.