Sean Lynch, Sue McAllister and the prison ‘service’


Sometimes the action or inaction of authority isn’t as hard to take as their attitude to it. A prime case unfolded yesterday evening.

The source for what happened was impeccable: NI’s Prisoner Ombudsman. In a report, the Ombudsman tells of how Sean Lynch, a prisoner in Maghaberry, injured himself twenty times while prison staff watched this happen on a monitor but didn’t intervene. As a result of his self-harming, Sean Lynch is now blind.

Shocking indeed. But the interviews given by the director general of the prison service, Sue McAllister were equally or more shocking. Remember this is the person with whom the buck stops. Interviewers from first UTV and then the BBC asked her whether she found the conduct of prison staff in this instance shocking and if they shouldn’t be dismissed from their jobs.

Ms McAllister’s response: nothing to see here, move along please. The important thing was that the prison service should ponder on the event and  learn  from it.

EH? But had she considered an apology to the family of Sean Lynch? Again, Ms McAllister batted the question away. This was not a matter of responsibility or apologies; this was a matter of learning from this upsetting incident.

On Facebook and Twitter, a number of people were outraged by her stance and said it was shocking that she couldn’t bring herself to apologise for what had happened. I agree, except I think apology is going the wrong way. David Cameron apologized for what the Parachute Regiment inflicted on innocent Derry people in 1972: we killed fourteen people that day but honest, we’re sorry now. Agus sin é. There should be no focus on apology in this case. The focus should be on people whose duty was to protect those in their care and who brazenly didn’t even attempt to fulfill that duty.

As for Sue McAllister, the person at whose desk the buck stops: for her demonstrated incompetence and failure to appreciate the enormity of what occurred under her supervision,   rather than an apology, a P45 with immediate effect might be in order.

If you don’t agree, maybe have a chat with the family of Sean Lynch would change your mind.

18 Responses to Sean Lynch, Sue McAllister and the prison ‘service’

  1. billy September 15, 2016 at 8:27 am #

    screws watching the monitor,were being watched on another monitor by other screws and nobody stepped in.sounds a bit like the robert hamill case were a heavily armed gang of policemen sat and watched as he was kicked to death in front of them.maybe if his name wasnt sean he would have been saved.

  2. Dominic Hendron September 15, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    I have to agree with you I found the interview disturbing. As Sean’s father said: A pair of handcuffs would have prevented the self harm. We have a big problem with mental health here

  3. paddykool September 15, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    You have to ask why Mr Lynch was ever imprisoned in Maghaberry Prison in the first place .The care of someone suffering from mental-illness surely is not in the remit of regular prison officers. I’d imagine that caring for someone like this would be a specialised affair. Nurses and nursing assistants have problems enough dealing with the mentally -ill ,but at least they have some training in this field.Could the same be said for prison-officers? Still it begs the question why this man was locked up in a prison, rather than a hospital. Anyone working in the mental health sector could tell many similar tales of horror…and worse.I’ve heard many myself down the years and am familiar with some of the things human beings can do to themselves.

  4. Antaine de Brún September 15, 2016 at 8:56 am #

    Ms McAllister is about to exit the stage, leaving a range of problems for the next incumbent. A highly critical inspection report was published in November 2015 and the chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association stated publicly that he had not read it as he was tired discussing reports because nothing was ever done to improve services.

    There is a myriad of challenges confronting those who have any responsibility for prisons. There is, however, one question that needs an answer.

    Are individuals sent to prison as punishment or for punishment?

    In a civilised society, a prison sentence means the deprivation of liberty. In prison, a person with health problems ought to have access to competent medical practitioners. If an individual poses a threat to himself/herself or others, the circumstances constitute the need for a risk assessment under existing mental health legislation with a view to providing appropriate treatment and aftercare, if necessary in a psychiatric hospital.

    It is evident that Ms McAllister has not learned any lessons given the recommendations made as a result of previous prison inspections. She is in a photograph today with the caption:

    “Partnerships in Safety – Building Safe and Just Societies”

    It would appear that the current prison regime is based on a poor foundation.

  5. patrick mcdermott September 15, 2016 at 9:10 am #

    It has been the trend for a long time for organisations (public and private), and their spokespersons , in the event of a scandal , to circle the wagons and defend the indefensible. That McAlistair woman was insensitive and patronising. At the very least, there should be resignations or sackings.

  6. Jack Black September 15, 2016 at 9:14 am #

    Unbelievable, watching that interview made me feel like very angry, ……….with both the television networks for employing such useless interviewers and as for Sue, less said the better I think.

  7. Anthony Leisegang September 15, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    Was interest to see in web searches this week that NI is not going the route of England, Scotl nd and Wales in implementing a start to banning smoking entirely in prisons.
    Convicts will be allowed to continue smoking in cells and designated public spaces.
    The Brit Justice Minister is also quoted as saying people are sent to prison AS punishment, not FOR punishment — ie, the needs of both smokers and non-smokers must be accommodated.
    The British Appeal Court has overturned a ban by the High Court on all smoking in State prisons.
    Where a complete cessation of smoking in State prisons has been achieved (black market supply aside), e-cigarettes, nicotine patches have been issued. However, half of ex-smoker convicts return to tobacco use on release, others have experienced.
    Clampdowns on smoking by mental health patients has failed in 100% of those discharged because of the positive benefits of nicotine to most mentally ill.
    Arguments that physical health benefits amid health budget cuts will be achieved are overturned by counter claims of increased mental illness and longterm physical nursing care needs.

  8. Gerard September 15, 2016 at 9:48 am #

    Think she is on her way out anyway but agree the interviews were unbelievable. Maybe they should get the head of the POA Finlay Spratt to see if he will apologise for his members inaction. He is after all always on gurning about the ‘poor’ prison officers and what they have to put up with.

  9. Mark September 15, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    Credit where credit is due Tara Mills (BBCNI )pressed her and pressed her for a proper response ,but got nothing but waffle
    Sackings and criminal investigation is needed

    • Ryan September 15, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

      “Credit where credit is due Tara Mills ”

      Tara is a great journalist, she really manages to hold people to account. If there is a hole in any story she puts a stick of dynamite in it. She even had Mike Nesbitt on the ropes and stuttering when she pulled him on his hypocrisy on leaving Stormont due to the IRA but yet sitting down with the active and drug dealing UVF/UDA at the same time…..

  10. Wolfe tone September 15, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    Get it out of your head that the prison staff are compassionate about their job. They are passionate about their wages mind you but certainly not about their job. Some of the most twisted people in prison system do the actual locking up. I have no doubt there are individuals within in the prison officers association who egg on and get a good laugh when prisoners harm or even kill themselves. No doubt whatsoever. Woe betide you happen to be a wee taig entering the prison system btw.

    • Ryan September 15, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

      “I have no doubt there are individuals within in the prison officers association who egg on and get a good laugh when prisoners harm or even kill themselves. No doubt whatsoever. Woe betide you happen to be a wee taig entering the prison system btw.”

      100% agree Wolf Tone. My relative was a republican prisoner during the troubles and spent quite a while in prison and he said the prison staff did enjoy torture and authority over prisoners. When Gerry Conlon from the Guildford four was in prison (an innocent man framed by the British State) the prison staff tortured him. He said the prison staff (along with other prisoners) spat and urinated in his food. On a number of occasions the prison staff deliberately left his cell door unlocked while some other prisoners could run in and beat him. Gerry even speculated that the prison staff was trying to make him commit suicide. That would’ve been very convenient, wouldn’t it? You can imagine the news headlines: “Guildford bomber commits suicide due to guilty conscience”, and would’ve got the British Government off the hook. Its no wonder Gerry and the others took to drugs/alcohol once they left prison, they really did go through Hell and back.

      Of course there was widespread torture of republicans in prisons during the troubles, to a much lesser extent Loyalists. That’s why republicans even assassinated specific prison staff in revenge. My relative as a 16 year old was stripped naked and badly beaten by prison staff in full riot gear up to 3 times a day. Fra McCann from Sinn Fein was in the next cell getting the same treatment. My relative said senior prison staff knew about this and even witnessed it. It was so bad even Loyalists were shouting “Leave them fellas alone!” and they knew it was republicans being beaten.

      The prison service in the North was certainly unique given the political situation here but brutality and psychopathic tenancies from prison staff towards prisoners is widespread all around the world. The “Stanford Prison Experiment” showed how quickly authority can bring out psychopathic tenancies in even normal, mentally healthy people. If you have never heard of this experiment then you may want to read up on it but it is disturbing.

      • Wolfe tone September 16, 2016 at 5:55 pm #

        Yes Ryan the story of the brutality carried out by the prison service is a relatively untold one. I recently spoke to a man who was incarcerated for a petty crime during the late 70’s. He encountered an individual warder from his own town whilst locked up. Unbeknownst to him but the warder had singled him out for special attention due to a previous encounter when they lived in the same street as each other. What was this previous encounter? Well he and his mates(youngsters) were throwing eggs at cars and happened to hit the screws car. Alas the screw didn’t forget the incident and duly reminded him of it whilst urinating over him on a cell floor.
        This man can thank his lucky stars he wasn’t a republican prisoner as it was well known that this particular prison officer was partial to brutalising prisoners of a republican persuasion. Btw the screw hugged the altar rails too lol.
        Anyways up to the present day, it can be safely assumed these particular brand of brutal sadistic prison officers have not gone away you know……and for them, a wee taig will do.

  11. Belfastdan September 15, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    Ms McAllister is on her way back to England with a nice pension and several years of lucrative earnings behind her. She does not care about Sean Lynch and will leave the mess for some one else to sort out.

    It is astounding that there is no secure hospital provision for people with mental health issues given that Sean is far from being the only one who instead of being treated are left to the mercies of the NI Prison Service.

    Don’t hold your breath for anyone being held to account.

  12. Perkin Warbeck September 15, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    HM, Esteemed Blogmeister, never slams the gates of a prison (e.g., HM Maghaberry) shut but opens the gates to a Castle.

    For, if a prison has been the home of a particular type of vertical l croppy in Norneverland then a Castle is indubitably the home of a specific type of, erm, Mainland Gentry. It’s just a fact of domestic life; the way the mop of fate flops. It’s simply the way things IS.

    Sue McAllister, who announced her Sexit (?) strategy from the Finchley-look alike, the Six Counties, as recently as August 26, suddenly finds herself confronted with the opportunity to pursue yet another career change.

    One which will mean she can consign her days as the Plenipotentiary for Penitentiary Affairs to the refuge sack of her Resume. Thus, the sound of Spider Murhpy playing the tenor saxophone, or , indeed, of Little Joe blowing on the slide trombone; not to mention the Drummer Boy from Pomeroy going crash, boom, bang as part of the rhythm section which doubled as the Purple Gang, as all are now history..

    She could forget to remember all about the worrying top secret report which landed in her in-tray one Monday morning to the effect that Number 47 had indicated (allegedly) to Number 3 that ‘he was the cutest jail-bird he ever did see’. Or , indeed, about the threat of depression which besets all long term inmates.

    Sad Sack, for instance, was prone to sitting on a block of stone and to weeping in a corner all alone. No more will Sue in her sternest and most strident of South Yorkshire tones command him to get a grip. Specifically, in the event of his being unable to find a partner, not to be so square but to man up and – grab a wooden chair.

    No longer any danger of the un-sueable Sue being tempted to repeat what Bugsy said when to turned to Shifty:

    -Nix, nix, I want to stick around the Six some more and get my kicks.

    No, indeed. All she will have to do now, in the light of the story which broke this morning, will be to board the ferry from Larne to Stranraer , Sue making sure to avoid the bridge of said ferries: it’s a McAllister thing.

    Her family and bridges do not have a happy history with each other. That is why she gave such places as Mayobridge and Banbridge a wide berth, when ever she had to go down to Down, to give just two examples from one county.

    Once on board the ferry, instead of hightailing it for the bridge she will, instead, highheel it to the ironically named Silent o’ Moyle bar and order her first drink thus from a slightly shocked waiter:

    -For God’s sake, bring me a long Scotch. What a bloody awful country!.

    As as she sips the amber dram of uisce beatha Sue will rue the day she did not pay more attention or her dues to the maudlin words of Run-ragged Reg even as he bade his final adieu to that cuckoo’s nest of yahoo, true blue, judicial review and mulligan stew, Norneverland.

    And on arrival at Stranraer she will board the RAF Chinook, with chopper blades already a-spin, if not quite a-whirr, poised to whisk Sue to her next job interview. As as she is airlifted to her destination it will be by way of a slight detour so as to take in Rothesay-o. There will be a number of reasons for this.

    Firstly, of course, the airborne trip will obviate (a daarlin’ word, Joxer) the possibility of encountering the b-word, b for bridges, including the Brig-a-doon. Sipping surreptitiously from her bottle of Black and White she will ponder the possibility of having to explain the P. initial at her upcoming interview which was once to be found in front of Sue but which had been mysteriously deleted from all official records.

    That would, of course, be P for Peggy. Yes, indeed, her full name is actually:

    -Peggy Sue McAllister.

    It’s a Southern thingy, a Southern Yorkshire thingy. By eliminating the P. name this reduced greatly the chances of being associated with her nemeses (when it came to sameness of name):

    -Billy Joe McAllister.

    With whom she disavowed all and any connection, for fairly obvious reasons. For he was the headstrong teenager who, one sleepy, dusty Delta day, a day for choppin’ cotton and balin’ hay , was namechecked in a news items from Chocktaw Ridge on account of his (seemingly inexplicable) jumping off the Tallahachie Bridge.

    -Durrum a doo, a durum a day, durum a daddy o
    Durrum a doo, a durum a doh, the day we went to Rothesay-.0.

    And as the chopper blades simulate the chorus of the eponymous ballad, even as the Chinook passes over Rothesay down below, Sue the former chief squaw of Prison Screws in Nornverland, will direct her attention to the headlines of her complimentary copy of The Scotsman.

    -Duke of Rothesay badly shaken in the grounds of Balmoral and his Audie A4 All-road Estate fairly mangled when he was suddenly ambushed by a Red Deer.

    The sub-heading reads:

    -Game Warden urgently sought by Royal Appointment to put manners on the Four- legged Fiends of the Balmoral Estate.

    The former Plenipotentiary for Penitentiaries in Noreverland feels quietly confident that her work experience in the recent past eminently qualifies her for the new vacancy in Balmoral. What does concern her more is the probability of there being a prolific number of humpy-backed bridges spanning ye bonny streamlets and rills of Balmoral Castle.

    PS Editorial note to those who suffer from a deplorable state on being no faut with matters to do with the Gentry, excluding those by the name of Bobby:

    -The balding heir to the throne is known as The Duke of Rothesay when visiting Scotland.

    PPS Sue was overheard by an ear-coked Chinook co-pilot to murmur out loud how she rather fancied herself in an ensemble of deerstalker hat, highland jacket and McAllister tartan troos-o.

  13. Ryan September 15, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

    I haven’t listened to any interviews yet but I read about this disturbing case. According to an article I read, Sean Lynch gouged out his own eyes. How anyone can just sit and watch that happening without intervening is incredible. For prison officers to watch this happening on a monitor is a serious dereliction of duty. At the very least there should be sackings and resignations. Has anyone even considered whether a law has been broken? Prison Officers are charged with looking after the welfare and safety of prisoners, and in this case they not only failed in their duty but willingly failed by seeing a serious incident happen and refusing to intervene.

    This isn’t the first time we heard of cases like this happening in the North’s prisons. There has been articles about people committing suicide in prison whilst they were meant to be under a routine watches by prison staff. There has been allegations of bad beatings against republican prisoners from prison staff, which I don’t think anyone will find hard to believe, given what went on in the past.

    If Sue had any decency should would apologize to the Lynch family but that would be an admission of guilt/wrongdoing, which she doesn’t want to admit. In the end, heads definitely have to roll in this case…..

  14. Sherdy September 15, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    I heard that pathetic excuse for a woman justifying/excusing what had happened, and she said something like her staff had acted in the best interests of Mr Brady, and she seemed to be supporting them all the way.
    ‘Acted in the best interests’ – by sitting watching for over an hour this unfortunate man slowly gouge his eyes out!
    They did not act – they did nothing.
    But maybe they know that whatever they do, or don’t do, their boss will back them to the hilt.
    If there is to be any justice in this case, Sue McAllister should be booted out of her job for wilful neglect, and not receive a penny in compensation, nor any letter of recommendation!
    Callous doesn’t even come near describing her.

  15. Cal September 15, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    Sue McAllister’s interviews were absolutely extraordinary. The sheer refusal to accept the obvious shortcomings of her prison service was nothing short of infuriating.

    Her cold attitude towards the Lynch family and dogged refusal to apologise in the wake of the report was shocking.

    If she’s at the top – God knows what quality of professional she has working under her. Not to mention their character.

    A shameful performance all round on the part of the prison service.