The self-harm a Derry man inflicted upon himself in Maghaberry prison two years ago has been described as ‘extreme and shocking’ in a Prison Ombudsman’s report.
The report, issued today, revealed that prison officers at one stage observed Sean Lynch as he self-harmed for 67 minutes, but did not intervene.
During this period of self harm, Mr Lynch, then aged 23, permanently damaged his eyesight.
The Ombudsman, Tom McGonigle, said the prison officers complied with a strict interpretation of rules which require intervention if a situation is ‘life threatening’ and Mr Lynch ‘did not meet the definition’.
However, the Ombudsman added: “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.”
Over a three-day period in June 2014, Mr Lynch self harmed on 20 different occasions. He rendered himself blind and inflicted a cut to his groin.
A forensic medical officer had assessed Mr Lynch prior to his remand in custody and they had suggested formal psychiatric assessment was an ‘absolute necessity’.
However, Mr Lynch did not see a psychiatrist for two weeks.
The report also concluded that Mr Lynch was treated less favourably at outside hospitals because he was a prisoner and an assessment to move him to a secure heath care facility was not completed in time.
The Ombudsman said: “This dreadful sequence of self-harming highlights the challenges of caring for severely mentally-ill people in prison.
“The key messages from this investigation are the need for someone to take prompt and effective control when a prisoner/patient’s mental health is deteriorating rapidly; and for improved assessment and information sharing at the point when people go into prison.”
Speaking to the ‘Journal’, Mr Lynch’s father, Damien, said: “We the family believe the prison authorities were grossly negligent and failed to deal with what were obviously complex mental health issues.”
He said the report raises further questions for the family and ‘we are entitled to answers so that no other family has to suffer.
“The impact on Sean and the whole family has been horrendous. Our lives have been changed.”
Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly has called for the governor of Maghaberry prison to be ‘sacked’.
He said the Ombudsman’s report is ‘damning’ and is the latest in a ‘long line of damning reports on the system being operated in Maghaberry’.