The North’s Justice Minister David Ford is facing calls for an immediate investigation after a severely disabled North West man spent “four days of hell” in Maghaberry prison for non-payment of £300 of motoring fines dating back five years.
Harry Arbuckle, who walks with the aid of a frame, was denied access to vital medication for the duration of his stay in jail last week which placed his physical and mental health in serious jeopardy, Strabane Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Breslin has said.
Mr Arbuckle, a recovering alcoholic with a history of depression and self-harm, said he feared for his sanity and took solace in prayer after pleading in vain with prison staff to bring him his inhalers and urgent medication prescribed by his GP.
He was also forced to share a first floor landing cell with no disabled access, toilet or washing facilities during which he had to climb stairs and get down on his hands and knees “like a dog” to get into a bottom bunk.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ from his home in Strabane, Mr Arbuckle said prison staff wouldn’t even bring him his AA books and a photo of his only grandchild which were his “lifelines”.
The 49-year-old, who was on a life support machine less than two years ago, has since turned his life around, including a period of rehabilitation at Damien House in Derry.
Mr Arbuckle said that after endless “buck passing,” prison staff handed him a complaint form the night before his release.
“I also had to force the staff to locate the medication I had brought with me.
“They were trying to tell me to go on without it, but I knew I needed it as it was my full month’s supply,” he said.
He claimed: “They treated me like an animal, they deprived me of my basic human rights, my hygiene and especially my medication.
“I saw my body getting weaker and weaker, I could hardly walk.”
Councillor Breslin, who has taken up his plight, accused the prison authorities of “maladministration”.
She said: “What makes this case all the more shocking and disturbing is that Harry Arbuckle was subjected to four days of hell on the basis that this disabled man was unable to afford to pay a £300 fine imposed for driving offences dating back almost five years. I have now brought Harry’s case to our Justice Committee member Jennifer McCann who is bringing it up directly with Minister David Ford and the prison authorities.”