Officer on suicide guard ‘watched TV as prisoner hanged himself’

Maghaberry Prison
Maghaberry Prison

A prison officer gossiped, watched TV, drank coffee and even lay down on a mattress and pulled “the covers over himself for five minutes” instead of keeping watch on a suicidal prisoner who hanged himself, a judge heard yesterday.

At Craigavon Crown Court Judge Patrick Lynch QC heard that over the course of almost 90 minutes as convicted killer Colin Bell made four suicide attempts, night duty officer 34-year-old Daniel Barclay “glanced” twice at CCTV screens showing what Bell was doing in the “safer cell” at Maghaberry jail which had been specifically designed for prisoners who were at risk of self- harm or suicide.

As 34-year-old Bell, who was serving eight years for manslaughter, made his final successful act of hanging himself, Barclay had lied down on a mattress in the observation pod.

Prosecuting QC Toby Hedworth told the court Barclay had been supposed to check the prisoner every 15 minutes but added: “However his interest in carrying out his duties are demonstrated most graphically when at 11:16, having rolled out a mattress on the floor, he turned the lights out and appeared to be watching the TV, not the CCTV and at 11:27 he can be seen to lay down on the mattress and pull the covers over himself for five minutes.”

Last month as his trial was due to get underway Belfast man Barclay pleaded guilty to a charge of misconduct in public office in that he “willfully neglected to perform his duty, without reasonable excuse or justification, in that he failed to carry out and record the appropriate observations in respect of a prisoner at risk, namely Colin Bell” on a date between July 30 and 2 August 2, 2008.

Mr Hedworth said it was the Crown case that Barclay had “made little if any attempt to have regard to what was on the CCTV screens in the pod”, choosing instead to sit at the far end of the room “with his feet up eating a sandwich”, watching a portable TV and lying down “to get some sleep before asking a colleague to check on the prisoner”.

Even then, it was a further 30 minutes before he realised something was wrong and raised the alarm but that by that stage, Bell was dead and attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful.

The lawyer said it appeared that Bell had made himself a ligature earlier that day, conceding that day shift staff had failed to spot him doing so.

Talking the court through the contents of the CCTV footage in the case, Mr Hedworth recounted how Bell was seen with a ligature “hanging from his neck” on three occasions before he managed to kill himself at the fourth attempt.

Defence QC Gavan Duffy outlined how Barclay had repeatedly expressed his remorse for the prisoner’s death and that “again today he has asked me to indicate and extend to the family of Colin Bell his sympathies”.

Adjourning passing sentence until next Thursday, Judge Lynch said there were a “large number of matters I wish to consider”.