EIGHTEEN months after her son died in Hydebank as a result of bullying which went unchallenged by prison management, Sylvia Carson is still waiting for some form of apology.
The effect that the death of her only son has had on the grandmother of six is all too clear as she struggles to fight back the tears.
“The effect on my family from losing Samuel has torn our family apart,” she openly admits.
“Our family will never be the same again.
“From Samuel was a wee boy he looked forward to family gatherings when we could all be together.”
She describes how the family has tried to carry on with life for the sake of the children, but now an empty chair remains during what should be the happiest times for the Carson family.
“As a family we celebrated all those things together. We still have to go on doing those other things because we have other children in the family.
“I have to go on because Samuel’s sister is only 10 and they expect these things.
“I have six grandchildren and they want to see granny’s house decorated at times like Christmas and Halloween.
“Those things meant a lot to us as a family.”
Recalling the heartache of her son having to spend Christmas in prison, she said:
“He wrote in his cards to me when he was in there at Christmas: `Mummy I’m missing Christmas this year, but I’ll be with you next Christmas…I’m looking forward to next Christmas… but he never got to see it.”
The pain of losing her only son never leaves Sylvia Carson’s mind.
“Two weeks after he died we had to celebrate his birthday.
“I was out shopping and I was asking myself where could I get him the nicest flowers for his grave?
“It was awful because I was looking around these flowers and I thought I should be buying this child a t-shirt or DVDs or something – not flowers for a grave… it’s just awful for us, awful.”
Since the appointment of Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe in 2005 there have been more than 30 deaths in Northern Ireland prisons.
Hydebank has come in for repeated criticism for a catalogue of failures in its prison regime.
On the same day as Samuel Carson’s suicide another female prisoner in Hydebank, Frances McKeown also took her own life.
A report into Mrs McKeown’s death is expected within weeks.
A third male prisoner also attempted to take his own life on the same day.
Earlier this year The Detail revealed how young male inmates in Hydebank were 12 times more likely to be sentenced to solitary confinement than their counterparts in Maghaberry.
In today’s interview Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe admits that bullying remains a major issue at Hydebank.
However Sylvia Carson warns that prison authorities can’t be allowed to ignore the ongoing failures at the south Belfast prison.
“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.
“I don’t want any other family to go through what we’ve gone through.
“It’s wrong, you shouldn’t have to bury your child and what makes it so hard is that from the report came out I’ve learned things in the report which I didn’t know about and I’ve had to read them and it breaks my heart knowing what he went through leading up to his death.”
Demanding that the prison service takes immediate action to adopt the recommendations in the Prisoner Ombudsman report, Sylvia Carson says:
“We don’t want the report put into a drawer and forgot about. The recommendations need to be acted upon.
“Something has to be done with these recommendations.
“They (prison management) have to listen.
“They can’t allow what’s happened to Samuel to happen again to another family.”
Despite the grief of losing her son, Sylvia Carson spoke to The Detail last June to publicise the horror of what her son had had to endure during his incarceration at Hydebank.
She says the ombudsman’s report has vindicated the family’s criticism of the failings within Hydebank which contributed to her son’s death.
“I was expecting an apology from Hydebank, especially when they knew everything that was happening to Samuel.
“I did the interview with you last year and everything I told you was the truth.
“The report shows that everything I said last year that had happened to Samuel was true and more.
“It’s 18 months and I’m still waiting for an apology.”
In a statement Northern Ireland Prison Service Director General Sue McAllister responded to the criticisms contained in the ombudsman’s report,stating:
“This was a tragic death and my thoughts today are with Samuel’s family. It is quite clear from the ombudsman’s report that Samuel was subjected to both physical and verbal abuse from other prisoners while he was at Hydebank Wood and the report does, in parts, make difficult reading.
“I am under no illusions that bullying can happen in prisons, with those convicted of or charged with particular offences particularly vulnerable.
“We do however have a duty of care to those who are sent to prison by the courts and we must do all that we can to protect them as far as possible through exercising the highest professional standards. It is clear from the report that there were deficiencies in the levels of protection offered to Samuel.”