Michael Brentnall, the solicitor for Terry McConnell, expresses grave concern at the serious medical neglect his client is being subjected to in Maghaberry Prison.
Terry McConnell is a republican prisoner currently held in Roe House in Maghaberry prison. In July 2012 he applied for a cross jurisdictional transfer to Maghaberry Prison from Portlaoise Prison in the Republic of Ireland to Maghaberry Prison. After a protracted campaign of advocacy on his behalf this was implemented on 1 May 2014.
Whilst in custody in Portlaoise he was diagnosed with an Arteriovenous Malformation on his Brain, a condition similar to a brain aneurism. During the transfer process information was shared by Portlaoise prison and our office to Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) confirming that the applicant was suffering from this potentially fatal condition.
Terry's medical prognosis confirms that he faces a considerable chance of rupture of the AVM.
Should this happen, there may be permanent brain damage or worse. A ruptured AVM is gravely serious, and an urgent medical emergency. It has been indicated to Terry by medical personnel, both North and South, that the goal of any medical treatment is to prevent further complications by controlling bleeding and seizures and, if possible, removing the AVM.
While in Portlaoise, Terry was due to see a Brain specialist for a pre-surgery examination. This was to have occurred in May 2014 at Beaumont hospital Dublin, however on transferring to Maghaberry the Northern Ireland Prison Service indicated that they could not fulfil this appointment and had Terry sign an agreement waiving his pre-operation examination, which he did. This was understandable due to the cross jurisdictional issues.
Worryingly, when Terry transferred to Maghaberry he received no medical supervision and no replacement appointment or treatment in relation to his condition. He had been complaining of severe headaches and had requested medical treatment, however upon each visit to prison doctors Terry was told that they were unaware of his condition as there was no indication of it in his medical notes. Subsequently they offered him only mild painkillers.
Terry McConnell has received none of the appropriate medical supervision, appointments or treatment required for his grave medical condition. Treatment which would have been easily available to him had he not been incarcerated in Maghaberry prison. As a result of this situation emergency Judicial Review proceedings were commenced against the NIPS with the South Eastern Health Trust as a notice party.
A High Court Judge probed the Barristers of both NIPS and the Trust and through this process it came to light that Terry's medical records had not been transferred from Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital; as a result the Judge indicated that the medical records were to be transferred immediately. This was then done in light of his instructions.
Nonetheless, the issue of Terry's medical treatment was again to become a contentious issue with NIPS.
During two appointments at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Terry was admitted while handcuffed and accompanied by Prison Officers for the duration of the consultation.
On a third occasion, Terry was similarly informed by a prison officer (on the morning of the appointment) that he was going to hospital. He was not told the reason for his visit or what the duration of his stay would be. Once at the hospital he was double handcuffed, namely his hands handcuffed together before being cuffed again to a prison officer. On being taken to the hospital building he entered a secure room, at all times in handcuffs and accompanied by the prison officers. Three consultants were also present and they informed Terry there was an urgent need for surgery in relation to the AVM condition. Terry was also told that his condition now carried an underlying 10% risk of stroke and haemorrhaging.
Whilst speaking with the three consultants, he was at all times handcuffed and sitting within earshot of the three prison officers who as a result became party to intimate details of Terry's medical history and condition. At one stage a prison officer even interjected during the consultation. Terry strenuously objected to the presence of the prison officers and to being handcuffed and despite a Consultant asking that Terry be released from the cuffs, prison officers refused to concede the medical professionals’ request.
This procedure was carried out by NIPS even though they were aware of the gravity of the situation. Indeed they would also have been aware that Terry had only a number of months left to serve on his sentence and that he had been released on a number of Temporary home leave periods, including ten days over Christmas, wherein he was unaccompanied and honoured all conditions of his temporary release.
Judicial review proceedings were subsequently issued in respect of Terry's treatment at the hands of Prison Service personnel in a medical setting. The NIPS gave an undertaking, which they had the discretion to do under Prison rules, in which they stated that Terry would be released for pending hospital appointments into his own custody without any prison supervision, which considering the immanency of his situation would be in relation to his brain surgery.
However, in April 2015 Terry again returned to the High Court after the NIPS refused to disclose a date for his brain surgery, either to him or to our office. Restrictions were also placed on the Royal Hospital preventing them from disclosing the date to us, Terry or his family. To put this in context Terry had been informed by a consultant Neurologist that he needed emergency surgery as he was considered as being in immediate risk. However the prison authorities had placed a ban on him being informed of the date of the operation. He believed, with reasonable foundation, that he would be released on a particular morning and told that he needed to make his way to the Royal Hospital to admit himself for surgery. As Terry is not a native of Belfast or the surrounding area and his family are a considerable distance away this presented a number of logistical difficulties for him in respect of his getting to the hospital and informing them of his imminent surgical appointment. The situation also dictated that Terry needed to get his affairs in order both legally and logistically with his family due to the inherent risks presented by surgery.
This Judicial review hearing forced the NIPS to disclose the date of the operation at the court hearing.
Terry was subsequently released for his operation unaccompanied. However due to a number of medical emergencies within the RVH Neurology Department he was in fact returned to Maghaberry prison after a number of days, the operation having not been carried out.
Nonetheless Terry has been given a new date for his operation, yet subsequently issues have again arisen in respect of his medical treatment by the NIPS. They may well have to be again resolved by legal proceedings.
This case has shown that there is a vast need for reform in the penal system that exists today in Northern Ireland and more particularly the system that is being administered in Roe House in Maghaberry prison. Terry McConnell whilst at his most vulnerable and facing the grave uncertainty of brain surgery, was forced to take emergency legal proceeding on three separate occasions in order to compel the NIPS to act in accordance with their Human rights obligations including the provision of adequate healthcare and proper conditions whilst in detention, and furthermore his right to family and private life.
The often quoted words of Ghandi spring to mind that the measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members and should resonate the corridors of this administration, whilst furthermore it should turn the attention of all those in society concerned with Human Rights, Social Justice and Penal reform to the reform of the administration of the Penal System in Northern Ireland.