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Spotlight on prison suicide

BBC NI's Spotlight programme was back on form this week with a review of the case of Prisoner B2970, Colin Bell. He was the prisoner at HMP Maghaberry near Belfast, who committed suicide while his prison guards – supposedly keeping a constant watch on him – literally slept on the job.

Bell, who was in prison for committing a murder, was known to be a suicide risk. He hanged himself last August, successfuly killing himself on his fourth attempt, all unnoticed by the guards who were charged with keeping him under watch via CCTV. Instead, prison officers watched TV, smoked, chatted and slept in makeshift beds. They didn't notice Mr Bell was dead for a further 40 minutes.

The scandalous case was the subject of a recent damning report by the Prisons Ombusman. Seventeen officers have been suspended from duty and the family is planning a civil action against the government.

Sadly this case is just one a long line of prison suicides in Northern Ireland. It's passed time for the Northern Ireland Office to show some duty of care and finally sort out the NI Prison Service.

The Spotlight programme is available (to those in the UK) until next Wednesday night on iPlayer. Perhaps a good entry for this year's Amnesty Media Awards.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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