Northern Ireland

Blinded prisoner Sean Lynch rejects apology from Sue McAllister

Sean Lynch inflicted injuries on himself over a period of three days in prison
Image caption Sean Lynch inflicted injuries on himself over a period of three days in prison

A Londonderry man who blinded himself in prison has rejected an apology from the head of Northern Ireland's Prison Service.

A report by NI's Prisoner Ombudsman said Sean Lynch inflicted "extreme and shocking" self-harm over three days.

The 23-year-old was being held in the high-security Maghaberry Prison.

Director General of the prison service Sue McAllister told Stormont's Justice Committee on Thursday she was "sorry" for the injuries he sustained.

But in response, Sean Lynch said: "I would not like to meet Sue McAllister and if she was to meet me with a handshake, I would turn my back on her."

His father, Damien Lynch, added that he would not accept her apology without disciplinary action.

Mr Lynch asked: "Why did it take her four weeks to give an apology?"

"She apologised in front of a justice committee but she couldn't apologise to us, so I don't really accept it.

"Unless there's some kind of disciplinary action taken, it's not an apology," he added.

'Serious failures'

Professor Phil Scraton from Queen's University, an expert on the prison system in Northern Ireland, has called for a full independent review of mental health care provision.

Image caption Sue McAllister appeared before Stormont's justice committee over the case of Mr Lynch on Thursday

"In four decades of research into the treatment of vulnerable prisoners and custody deaths in all UK jurisdictions, this is one of the most serious and explicit failures in the duty of care by prison management and prison guards," wrote Prof Scraton.

"The response by the Director General to Sean Lynch and his family is an abdication of responsibility for the abject failure at all levels.

"Depressingly, given the most recent highly critical report by the independent prisons inspectorate on the abject conditions at Maghaberry, severe self harm and suicide are to be expected.

"The time has now come for a full, independent review of mental health care in the four prisons," he added.

Image caption Prof Scraton is a leading criminologist at Queens University in Belfast

CCTV cameras at Maghaberry prison showed Sean Lynch shouting and crying in pain and banging his cell door, but the officers did not try to stop him.

He used his fingers and thumbs to damage his eyes, and claimed to have used a piece of broken glass to injure his groin.

"I am sorry for the life-changing injuries that Mr Lynch sustained whilst in our care," said Mrs McAllister on Thursday.

She said the days leading up to Mr Lynch's "most serious incident of self-harm" were "hugely challenging for everyone - for our officers, our healthcare colleagues, Mr Lynch's family and of course Mr Lynch himself".

Previously Mrs McAllister said it was the most extreme case of self-harming she had experienced in 30 years working in prisons.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Sean Lynch used his fingers and thumbs to damage his eyes in the jail outside Lisburn, County Antrim

She said it was a "shocking and tragic case" but that "it was not possible to say what staff could or should have done" in this "unprecedented incident".

'Life of Darkness'

Damien Lynch said he and his family are still searching for answers for the treatment his son received in prison.

"Sean went into prison a healthy man and came out blind, so they failed in their duty of care to look after him," he said.

"The new Justice Minister, Claire Sugden, should demand proper accountability from the prison service to ensure no other family has to suffer the ordeal we've had to cope with.

"It's immaterial to me if I meet Sue McAllister, Sean is the main issue and no matter what happens he's been sentenced to a life of darkness."

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