Key documents assigning responsibilities for the water supply at a Co Londonderry prison where an inmate died from a water-borne disease were not signed off by an Executive department, it was revealed.
Communications between a firm employed to inspect the system at Magilligan and the Government did not receive an official signature, an inquest preliminary hearing in Belfast was told.
John Russell, 64, is believed to have died from Legionnaires’ disease in February 2007. A central issue for the inquest to decide is who was responsible for doing what and whether there were gaps, a lawyer said.
Barrister Mark Reel said: “Nalco would appear to be making the case that in order to ensure that there was clarity of responsibility they have this system of documentation and that DFP (Department of Finance and Personnel) did not or would not sign it off.”
Nalco is a company which specialises in water treatment. The DFP has responsibility for some aspects of public property management, although a lawyer told today’s inquest the department did not want to be legally represented when the full hearing begins.
Mr Reel said documents claimed Nalco had a management system to deal with Legionella bacteria. He added papers which DFP did not sign included one detailing Nalco’s understanding of its responsibilities.
He said: “It would seem that there was a problem with access to visits and communications with DFP property division.”
Quoting from a witness statement, he said that problem led to the appointment of an administration supervisor to try to improve matters.
“One of these issues is the liaison and to what extent it operated, or did not operate and why, between Nalco, DFP and Prison Service. That would appear to be an issue that is relevant to this inquest.”
Mr Reel added: “A central issue of this inquest is who was responsible for doing what and where and whether it did fall down and where the gaps were.”
The case was adjourned to a future date.