Ombudsman finds prison assault claim was "false"

Hydebank Wood is located in the outskirts of South Belfast

Hydebank Wood is located in the outskirts of South Belfast

By Niall McCracken

NORTHERN Ireland’s prisoner ombudsman has found that an incident concerning the alleged serious assault of two prison officers by an inmate was “falsely recorded”.

A new report written by the prisons watchdog has found that an incorrect statement was recorded claiming that a prison officer had been assaulted when instead evidence shows that the officer sustained the injuries falling on his way to respond to an alarm.

CCTV footage obtained by the ombudsman’s office shows an officer falling in Hydebank Wood Prison on his way to an incident on a landing. Concluding the report the ombudsman stated that it is “a serious matter that records are incorrect in these circumstances and the governor of Hydebank Wood should investigate why this was wrongly recorded.”

The complaint was investigated by former ombudsman Pauline McCabe, who left the post earlier this year after five years in office.

The ombudsman’s investigation began in response to a complaint made by a former prisoner at Hydebank Wood Prison in September last year.

The ex-prisoner, who wishes to remain anonymous, made a complaint in relation to the attitude of staff towards him. It was referred to the prisoner ombudsman as he was unhappy with how this was dealt with internally.

The former prisoner contacted The Detail and provided us with a copy of the report. Complaint reports are not routinely put into the public domain, but it’s authenticity has been verified by the ombudsman’s office.

The report states that the prison governor should ensure that records are created immediately to reflect the true course of events relating to the incident.

A copy of the ombudsman’s report was sent to the director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS). In a statement to The Detail a NIPS spokesperson said it still had a number of weeks to respond to the report and was giving “due consideration to its content.”

For the purpose of this article the prisoner will be referred to as Prisoner A, while the ombudsman’s report refers to the prison officers involved in the incident as Officer J and Officer E.

A section of the report deals specifically with the issue that Prisoner A allegedly assaulted Officer J and Officer E on October 7 2012.

The Prison Records Management System (PRISM) record of the incident stated that Prisoner A attacked and assaulted Officer J and Officer E on one of the prison’s landings after attempts to control and restrain Prisoner A in his cell.

The ombudsman found that it was an incorrect statement that Officer J was assaulted as the evidence showed he sustained his injuries after falling when responding to an alarm incident in Prisoner A’s cell.

Another senior officer (SO) from one of the landings recorded on his incident report that: “Officer J fell at the bottom of the dining hall stairs fracturing/dislocating his right shoulder. I continued onto the incident in cell [redacted] where Prisoner A was being restrained by Officer E and [name redacted] on the cell bed. Prisoner A was refractory and violent and attempting to get free from his locks. Prisoner A was then cuffed by officers [names redacted] and there were no injuries noted on the inmate. Officer J was taken to healthcare and advised to attend outside hospital. Officer J was taken to Dundonald Hospital by Officer E as he too was going off duty.”

The ombudsman obtained CCTV footage showing an officer falling on his way to the incident on the landing. The report outlines that the PRISM record of the incident contains an incorrect statement as Officer J was not assaulted but fell responding to the alarm.

Officer J fractured and dislocated his right shoulder and Officer E injured his right hip.

The ombudsman found that there was no further information relating to Officer E’s injury and there was nothing in the records to suggest he went to hospital for treatment.

It is recorded that Officer J “had a sling applied to his injury and was taken to Dundonald hospital by Officer E.” The ombudsman’s report also outlines that medical notes show an injury report form was completed “following an assault on an officer”.

The injury report form states that Prisoner A was: “Controlled and restrained to CSU (Care and Supervision Unit) following assault on discipline officer. Inmate crying when I arrive to see him. States he was sore behind ear- no signs of injury noted in that area. States he was punched in head, nil of note observed.”

The ombudsman concluded incorrect records were made in terms of any reference that the officers sustained injuries as a result of an assault by Prisoner A.

The report states: “It has been established that Officer J was not actually assaulted; and there is no evidence to suggest that Officer E had any injuries as defined under prison service policy as a ‘serious assault’.”

The report concludes that it is a serious matter that records are incorrect in these circumstances and that the governor of Hydebank Wood should investigate why this was wrongly recorded.

© The Detail 2013