- The following is an account from IRPWA Prisoner Ta McWilliams, in relation to his recent treatment by the Maghaberry Administration and Staff.
I suffered a heart attack on St. Patrick’s Day 2014. Since then I have been on medication in an attempt to control my condition, though my imprisonment means that treatment has fallen far short of what would normally be expected. This sub-standard health provision contributes to my suffering from ongoing high blood pressure, chest pains and other related symptoms of heart disease.
At 7pm, on Sunday 31st May, a nurse came to my cell after I made jail staff aware that I was suffering from severe chest pains and extremely high blood pressure – danger signs for anyone who has previously suffered a heart attack. At around 9pm I was handcuffed in my cell and then transferred by ambulance to the A&E at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, where I was placed in a side room. At all times I was handcuffed to one of the three screws accompanying me.
While remaining handcuffed, I had a number of tests relating to my condition. This afforded me no privacy and was a clear breach of patient/doctor confidentiality. The three screw presence remained constant throughout my ordeal, even when I went to the toilet.
After a number of hours on a hospital trolley, I asked a nurse if I was to be moved to a bed on a ward. I was told not until 8am the next morning (Mon 1st June). I was finally taken to the ward at 9am; only to be returned to a trolley when told there were still no beds available. As I had been by this stage handcuffed to a screw for 14 hours, I requested the cuffs be removed – pointing out my shortness of breath and chest pains, and that I also suffer from gout in my leg. Jail staff rang the Administration with my request; to be told “no way”.
Finally, l was seen by a doctor who told me that I would have to complete a “treadmill exercise” so that the hospital could be satisfied there was no further damage to my heart, as previous tests were inconclusive. I pointed out that I had been lying in pain, handcuffed for 18 hours on a trolley without sleep and was exhausted – meaning there was no chance I could complete the test like any other patient. Again during these doctor/patient conversations, three screws were present. He told me he was satisfied that I could return to jail, despite not being able to determine the damage to my heart.
I remained handcuffed to one of three accompanying screws as I was transported back to Maghaberry; with the cuffs only removed when I was inside the Jail reception. On arrival I spoke to the jail nurse, making her aware of my condition and 24 hour ordeal. The nurse said she would relay my concerns to the on-duty governor, John McCall. I then refused to comply with a strip search and when he came to speak to me, I pointed out that at all times since leaving the jail I had been handcuffed to one of three of his staff accompanying me, during toilet visits and medical consultations.
Mc Call arrogantly disregarded my protestations, citing “procedure”. Despite still suffering from severe chest pains, with inconclusive medical tests hours earlier, I was then forcibly strip searched by a team of six Riot Screws as another filmed my degradation. This was the culmination of psychological and physical neglect over the previous 24 hours, before being returned to my comrades on Roe 4.
This strip search is in sharp contrast to the publically stated position of David Ford on the Nolan Show (13th Nov 2014) when the Justice Minister stated:
specifically on the recommendation on no automatic strip searching on discharge, going on home leave or on the hospital – that is being implemented that there will not be an automatic strip search in those circumstances. It is consistent with what is being done across the Prison Service where much more is being done on an intelligence led and evidence based approach rather than blanket approaches to things.
Surely the question must be asked: What better “intelligence led and evidence based approach” is there than having three jail staff present, including one handcuffed to me, at all times?
It is my view that the activities of the Maghaberry Administration and their Staff, during the few days of my ordeal, brings into sharp focus the abuse that results from the continued implementation of Controlled Movement and Forced Strip Searching. As a lifelong Republican from Ardoyne, I would appreciate the assistance and support of local people for the IRPWA’s campaign highlighting such disgraceful, degrading and absolutely unnecessary practices.
Go raibh maith agaibh,