Sex offender found dead in prison may have died violently

The judge found management at Midlands Prison did not exercise duty of care
The judge found management at Midlands Prison did not exercise duty of care

A sex offender found dead in his prison cell may have died violently, a report by the Inspector of Prisons has found.

Judge Michael Reilly highlighted several concerns in his report, including the failure by prison staff to preserve the scene.

He also found management at the Midlands Prison did not exercise the duty of care that would be expected when they moved the 61-year-old deceased into a cell with a much younger inmate.

The cell mate (31), considered a “volatile prisoner” with convictions for false imprisonment and assault causing harm, had set up a makeshift still in the cell to distil illicit “hooch”, the report found.

Gardai investigated the inmate’s death two years ago, but it did not result in any prosecution.

Judge Reilly made a number of recommendations in his report, including that elderly and long-term prisoners should get single cells.

He also said prison governors must be aware of their legal obligations to protect the health of prisoners.

According to Judge Reilly’s report, the deceased suffered head injuries which were not self inflicted. Two sticks were found in the cell.

A coroner concluded he died from cardiac arrest precipitated by blunt force trauma to the head and trunk.

The prisoner, was serving concurrent terms for sexual assault, theft, larceny and false accounting, was found unconscious in his cell at 7.15pm on February 12, 2013.

Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 8.20pm.

According to the report, the prisoner, who was in poor health, had been accommodated in a single cell, but was transferred to a double cell in another wing of the prison against his wishes.

The move saw him paired with the 31-year-old inmate on January 26 – just 17 days before his death.

The deceased was a non-smoker and a non-drinker who suffered from asthma, but his new cell mate was a chain smoker and a known “hooch-maker”.

On the day of the man’s death, CCTV footage showed numerous prisoners visiting his cell.

Judge Reilly said it appeared this was because he cellmate was distilling “hooch” and they were either drinking it there or collecting it and drinking it elsewhere.

His body was discovered after prison officers searched the cell after one smelled the “hooch”.

Inside, they found the deceased was unresponsive. There was a makeshift still and two sticks were also recovered.

The judge found the scene may have been contaminated due to the number of people who entered it between the body being found and the arrival of gardai.

Although some personnel from the Prison Service’s operational support group, who have training in crime scene preservation, were present in the prison, they were not deployed.

Judge Reilly’s report found no appropriate assessment was done on the suitability of the man sharing a cell, particularly with a prisoner who smoked and drank alcohol.

In a statement, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said steps had been taken to address Judge Reilly’s concerns and a cell risk assessment pilot has commenced in the Midlands Prison.

She said investigation procedures had also been enhanced.

Shane Phelan