Family of man blinded in jail: "Prison service covering up evidence"
The family of a man who blinded himself behind bars says the Prison Service is still covering up.
Sean Lynch tried to cut off his testicles with a piece of glass he found in a supposedly safe cell in Maghaberry, and two days later he blinded himself.
But when the official Ombudsman report was published last week the weapon had disappeared.
It says Sean “inflicted an 8cm cut to his groin, allegedly with a piece of broken flask which he found after moving into a new cell.
“However this cannot be confirmed as the implement was never sought nor found.”
Sean’s father Damien says that contradicts what the Prison Service told him in June 2014 when the jail’s governor confirmed a weapon had been found, and shows it’s still concealing the truth about his son’s ordeal.
The investigation did uncover the disturbing fact that officers observed Sean for over an hour as he used his thumbs to burst his eyeballs in the grip of a mental illness, two days after he had mutilated his testicles.
Officers claimed they couldn’t enter the cell because it would compromise the security of the prison, which Damien says is nonsense.
“It was a policewoman who went into the cell in the prison and guarded him in the hospital. She could do that but a squad of prison officers couldn’t?”
The official report says the prison officers’ claims that “their duty of care was trumped by security concerns appear to have had little basis in reality”.
The prison authorities have never apologised or shown any remorse for their appalling treatment of the disturbed young man. In fact they pursued him until recently with an allegation of assaulting a prison officer 48 hours before he blinded himself.
That charge was withdrawn just days before the official report into the incident was made public last week.
And the assault allegation which led to Sean’s arrest in 2014 for breaching his bail conditions was also dismissed. He has emerged from the horrific experience blinded for life and blameless on both charges.
Dad-of-two Damien has welcomed the support of the Prison Ombudsman but says the issue of a weapon shows the Prison Service has still not come clean.
By the time Sean, from Derry, gouged his eyes, five different professionals had flagged up concerns about his mental health – the magistrate who remanded him; the police officer who took him to prison; a nurse in the prison; a senior prison officer and a doctor who treated him for the lacerations to his testicles in Craigavon Area Hospital.
Despite the clear indications that Sean, now 25, was suffering from serious mental health issues, he had been placed in a secure cell which contained broken glass.
“There was a weapon in that cell. Of course there was a weapon. He didn’t use his nails to cut his groin,” says Damien
“I never thought they were that corrupt but even after all this they’re still lying.”
In the two years since Sean lost his sight he has struggled with his disability and for the once promising young footballer the Euros this summer underlined how different things could have been.
Premier League clubs Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd, West Ham and Celtic all brought him over for try-outs and Sean also played for the Northern Ireland youth team.
“There were scouts saying they hadn’t seen talent like his for 30 years,” says Damien.
“It was hard watching the likes of Shane Duffy in the Euros – Sean played with him.
“He was able to rhyme off the names of so many people in the Euros he’d played with. Everyone knows what his quality as a footballer was like.”
Damien says the family will never be able to leave Sean’s ordeal behind them and his treatment has impacted all of their lives. He is completely dependent on his dad and sister Kay for support and spends most of his days at home watching TV.
Sean's father, Damien, says Prison Service needs to come clean
The Derry father says he would still like to hear an apology from outgoing Director General of Prisons for Northern Ireland Sue McAllister.
“How can she still defend her staff after everything that has come out? That they stood and watched Sean blind himself, that officers said they weren’t properly trained to deal with it.
“I’d love to see her putting her hands up and apologising.
“In the long term the most important thing is how Sean gets through the rest of his life. He has a life to lead and it’s up to me to protect him,” says Damien.