Prisons of shame: Political prisoners dying in Northern Ireland

July 8, 2011

Brussels, 8.7.2011

Pauline McCabe, Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
22nd Floor
Windsor House
Bedford Street

Dear Madam,

Concerns: the deaths in Maghaberry prison, Brendan Lillis who is actually dying in the Maghaberry prison

May I remind you to my letter of 30.6.2011, please ?

In this letter I said that it is not normal that, while you are pretending to investigate the complaints from prisoners and the deaths in prison custody (from 1 September 2005 the remit of the Prisoner Ombudsman was even extended as required by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), you say that you ‘can not comment and can not be helpful’ in the case of Brendan Lillis.

You say that ‘these matters are for Minister for Justice Ford and the prison authorities’ but that is not correct. The least you can do as Prisoners Ombudsman which investigates with a special team the many deaths and suicides in the prisons of Northern Ireland, is to make a report of a case as Brendan Lillis and to contact the Minister and the direction of the prison authorities.

As you know very well, Brendan is very sick and he risks to die in the Maghaberry prison of Northern Ireland where there were 3 deaths during the past 3 months.

I learned that Brendan has no right to the visit of a physician from outside the prison. That’s in violation of the prison law and international laws.

Brendan is now more than 450 days in bed and he is more dead than alive. His situation is getting worse every day. He can hardly move and talk.
He would now be fed through a gut that is going directly to his stomach. That is a sadistic torture because they know that he is dying and it is again a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the national and international laws.

Given his health, he has the right to be released.

As I said, there have been many deaths in the Maghaberry prison without you were doing anything to prevent it, without you took your job seriously. You seem to work without human feeling, without thinking of the life of the prisoners and their husbands, their families and friends.

Remember that you are a prisoner ombudsman. So, it is your work to DO something for prisoners.

You think that, by refering to the Minister of Justice and the direction of the prison authorities, you can avoid your responsibility. But it will not help you.
If you do not help a very sick prisoner by making a report and contacting the Minister and the prison authorities, you can be prosecuted as he dies.

Yours sincerely,

Jan Boeykens
President of Werkgroep Morkhoven

Sign the petition:​/releaseBrendylilli

Friends of Brendan Lillis:!/home.php?sk =group_132734503459781

8 Responses to “Prisons of shame: Political prisoners dying in Northern Ireland”

  1. Caroline Kelly Says:

    Now Mrs. McCabe , Ombudsman,
    is saying Mr. Lillis is the problem of the Health Care Trust. He is imprisoned at Maghaberry Prison, and is under their control and custody. She is passing blame for his murder by the Prison to the doctors. This is not sensible.

  2. kruitvat Says:

    A year ago McCabe recommended Maghaberry changes.
    The result of these ‘recommendations’ is that the situation is exact the same as before and that a very sick prisoner as Brendan Lillis, dies in the Maghaberry prison while McCabe says that she ‘cannot be helpful’…

    Prisoner Ombudsman recommends Maghaberry changes

    11 June 2010

    The prisoner ombudsman has called for a review of lockdowns and strip searches at Maghaberry Jail.
    In a wide ranging report, Pauline McCabe made 16 recommendations after an inmate complained about being locked up for 23 hours a day.
    Ms McCabe called for an immediate review into locking down prisoners as a response to staffing problems.
    She also said prisoners in Roe House had effectively served their punishments for an Easter protest.
    Ms McCabe was responding to complaints made by “Prisoner C” . She said these had been raised by other inmates several times.
    Paramilitary prisoners are kept separately at the prison: Roe House is for republicans and Bush House is for loyalists.
    Staff shortages have led to more lockdowns in Maghaberry. Any lockdowns must be seen to be carried out in an equitable way across the board, she said.
    Ms McCabe also said random CCTV footage should be examined every month to ensure prisoners have as much free movement out of their cells as possible.
    In the light of recent industrial relations problems, one impartial person should be present at discussions with the Prison Officers’ Association, she said.

    She also recommended that:
    A review of the separated prisoner regime should be included in the overall prison review
    Eating arrangements for separated prisoners should be revised to allow people to eat in the recreation room and three prisoners should be trained in food handling to serve meals
    An independent prison review should be carried out into full body searches
    Random selection of prisoners for searches should be seen to be done equitably
    Every prisoner undergoing a body search should be given a clean bath towel to use during the process.
    Twenty-eight republican prisoners barricaded themselves into a dining room at Roe House over Easter.

    Ms McCabe said they had been served punishments and, for more than 69 days, had been confined to their cells or were part of a regime which was similar to being confined to cells.
    She said she recommended that a line be drawn in the respect of any outstanding adjudications for the Roe House prisoners.
    “The separated prisoners in Roe House have, in effect, served the punishments that would be awarded to them,” she said.
    Ms McCabe also ruled that books, newspapers and writing materials should not be removed as punishment.

    She said Roe House prisoners who were not being confined to their cells for punishment, should be offered access to education classes and gym over above their daily hour in the exercise yard.

    In a statement, the NI Prison Service said it intended to implement the report’s findings.

    Raymond McCartney, Sinn Fein, welcomed the report. He said the ombudsman’s recommendations should be implemented without delay.

  3. kruitvat Says:

    On ‘Friends of Brendan Lillis’

    I asked a good friend of mine who is a executive producer to write a letter on Brendan’s behalf also…. I guess according to the life sentence unit (and what type of title is that?!?) there is no reason to have compassion for the welfare for a sick dying human being…. i am eagerly waiting to hear what my producer will be saying back because she is beyond disgusted! i however never heard back from the life sentence unit!
    enclosed is my friends email…. and the reply….

    The email:

    Dear Sir,

    While researching for a film that I am working on I came across the Facebook group ‘Friends of Brendan Lillis’. After researching more into the Brendan Lillis case, I realized that there are no charges filed against him, yet Brendan who is currently emprisoned in the Maghaberry prison of Northern Ireland, is dying. This is common knowledge, just not on Facebook. He is extremely sick, suffering, and in great physical pain. It has been 549 days now that Brendan has been in bed without proper treatment. Can you please ask the relevant government departments to look into his case and free him immediately as there are still no charges filed against him?

    In the Maghaberry prison different prisoners have died suspicsously during the past months and I am fearful that if something is not done Brendan will be next.

    I know the economy is rough in all countries, but here in America we provide better medical care for our prisoners who are i fact dangerous criminals, and certainly do not hold prisoners for more than 72 hours if no charges have been filed. I am sure if Brendan Lillis was a threat to anyone one person or thing they would of been able to find something to charge him with by now. Please look into this situation I am sure when you do, you too will fully believe that Brendan Lillis needs to be released immediately.

    Thank you for your time in trying to resolve this dire matter.

    Yours Truly,

    Jenny Smith
    Los Angeles, CA

    Their reply:

    Life Sentence Unit
    Dundonald House
    Upper Newtownards Road
    BTA4 3SU

    Tel: 028 905 22922
    Fax: 028 905 20918

    8 July 2011
    Dear Ms Smith

    You have written to the Northern Ireland Assembly Communications Office about the case of Brendan Lillis. Our e-mail was referred to the Office of David Ford MLA Minister for Justice and I have been asked to reply to you on his behalf.

    The facts of this case are that Mr Lillis was released from prison in March 1993 having served 16 years 4 months of four life sentences following his conviction on four separate bombing charges in 1976. He was re-arrested in October 2009 on charges connected with an attempted kidnapping. His case was referred to the independent Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland and they recommended that his life licence should be revoked as they concluded that his behaviour had demonstrated that he had become a danger to the public – contrary to the terms of his life licence. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland accepted this advice and Mr Lillis resumed serving his four life sentences in November 2009.

    The court has decided that the October 2009 charges against Mr Lillis are not to be proceeded with at present, as it has taken the view that he is not fit to attend trial. However these charges have not been dropped and they remain against him. I understand from the Public Prosecution Service that this situation will remain under review.

    While I am not in a position to detail the specifics of Mr Lillis’ condition I can assure you that the Northern Ireland Prison Service has made strenuous efforts to ensure that his full health care needs have been and are continuing to be met in a satisfactory and appropriate manner in prison custody and that his health is not suffering from any lack of attention. He is under the care of a consultant who reviews his case regularly and he has undergone a number of investigations and treatments – the same level of treatment that he would have received were he living in the community. Indeed the physician employed by Mr Lillis’s legal team to review his case has complimented the standard of medical care that Mr Lillis is receiving in custody.

    Given these circumstances the Minister of Justice does not consider that exceptional grounds exist which would justify the immediate release of Mr Lillis on compassionate grounds.

    The Parole Commissioners are currently reviewing the revocation of Mr Lillis’ life licence. This is a matter entirely for them. The Minister of Justice will be guided by whatever decision the Commissioners make in relation to the continued need for Mr Lillis to remain in custody.

    Yours sincerely

    Life Sentence Unit


    For a second while reading this, I thought we were dealing with a 3rd world country by the lack of sensitivity to a human life. I personally do not believe what they are saying, as i come from chicago where it is common place to create factitious charges on an individual that they want to rid themselves of. but regardless of true or not, everyone deserves proper medical care if serving time-whether there are charges filed or not!

  4. kruitvat Says:

    This is pure form of political vengeance. If a man is so sick that he is going no longer to live, the least what you can do, is to release him on humanitarian grounds. I hope that there will come a film about this case.

  5. kruitvat Says:

    Pauline McCabe, Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland: ‘we cannot be helpful’

    Latest news of Brendan (8.7.2011)

    I only get to see bl 2 hours a week,his arm is white and the rest of him is a bit red , he cant move his fingers and sleeps most of the time, i havnt seen any difference yet as i dont get to see him much. and the commissioners meeting is expcted to last 8 hours 4 hours per day, 18th

    and 19th the 1st day is focising on if brendan is or can become a danger to the publis, both physically or mentally ie masterminding a crime… the 2nd day will focus on his health

    He cant even roll a feg ni someone dose it for him plus they will have to give him more morphine for the pain of moveing hin, sh hell be high as a kite.

    He is laying flat on his side, he said he was really hot on my last visit with him and the bed sheets were soaken with sweat . they have been trying to take blood but the vains keep collapsing not sure if they have got any yet. and they run out of the urine cardboard things he uses to pass water in . so he has to keep using the same 1 they rinse it at the sink in his cell. And the unit beside his bed is stinking. he trys to drink water but it comes back up. he sips tea through a straw.

    Probably has to lie on his side because of his back pain. It probably hurts when he puts any pressure on the fused part.

    Thats the way hes been laying for months, he cant get onto his back at all with the pain, thats why they took his tooth out in his cell bed its the only position he can just about tolerate. The slightest movement makes him cry out .

    I am sitting here weeping for him. I feel so helpless as must you. His condition is critical, he needs to be transported straight to an intensive care unit. I have sent an e-mail to the DOJ in Belfast. I am letting them know my concerns and that the world is watching. I hope something works. I will not sleep until I know this man is getting proper care.

    He could be going septic. Make sure they are checking his temp, BP and P frequently. The red flags would be increased temp decreased BP and fast but weak pulse. Are they checking his O2 sat levels? They need to give him a lot of water with the feeding or he will dehydrate even worse. They need to keep his head elevated in order to prevent aspiration of the feeding and causing pnuemonia. Are they checking any labs? OMG I wish I could be there.

  6. kruitvat Says:

    Irish Prisoner Facing Death!

    30 juin 2011

    Brendan Lillis, a 59 year old former Life-sentence political prisoner from West Belfast, in Ireland, is currentlydesperately ill in the medical wing of the notorious Maghaberry prison, in County Antrim. He suffers from the intensely painful and progressive disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis which due to other medical complications has left himunable to move from his bed for 14 months and his weight has dropped to a perilous 6 stones (38.1 Kilos !). Due to a series of serious infections and medication which has compromised his immune system, Mr Lillis has been unable to eat, sleep or hold down even liquids for a period close to a month and is constant agony. In short, his health has deteriorated to such an extent that his partner Roisin, who is his only contact with the outside world, fears that he will die in his prison bed!

    Dont let Brendan die in prison!

    Mr Lillis was an Irish Republican political prisoner who had been released on license but unfortunately was wrongfully arrested for an attempted robbery over a year ago. Despite being judged unfit to stand trial, due to his desperate medical condition, Mr Lillis is still being held in Maghaberry prison ‘on license’ due to his previous conviction for Irish Republican political charges and is currently in a ‘Catch 22′ situation, where he can be held indefinitely at the ‘pleasure’ of the British ‘Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Owen Patterson! . With the ‘Secretary of State’ having the singular power to release Mr Lillis, only public pressure will convince him to allow this seriously ill prisoner to receive the medical treatment he so badly needs and to spend his remaining days with his family, in a non-high security prison environment.

    Mr Lillis’ case is a purelyhumanitarian issue but it is complicated by his political antecedents. Ankylosing Spondylitis, the condition that Mr Lillis suffers from is an intensely painful condition that begins witha curvature of the spine and it has now got to the stage where he is in extreme pain 24 hours a day, with little relief and grossly sub-standard medical care. The Maghaberry prison ‘hospital’ is little more than a ‘sick-bay’ which is guarded by Unionist prison warders, who would be antagonistic to Mr Lillis due to his Irish Republican past.

    Roisin, Mr Lillis’ partner, is understandably beside herself with anxiety and is desperately looking for help with her fledgling campaign to have Brendan treated with dignity. Roisin stated:

    “I am trying my best to highlight this but sadly I’m working alone and don’t have much experience this area but I’m trying my best……For the 1st 10 weeks he had no visits because he couldn’t get into a wheelchair and they wouldn’t let me into the jail, after a lot of debates with the jail i was eventually allowed to visit him in his cell which i have done since then. as you all no Brendan is now in a precarious situation and if he doesn’t get released from jail i am in no doubts he will die soon.”

    Mr Lillis’ case should be a concern for everyone on humanitarian grounds alone and it would appear that only public pressure will make the Secretary of State notice the plight of a seriously ill, 59 year old man, in Maghaberry top-security prison, who is in constant pain on a daily basis and whose weight has plummeted to a dangerous 6 stone. Anyone who can help is asked to contact:

    politicians in Ireland, the UK, the USA and elsewhere
    humanitarian organisations
    the ‘Secretary of state for Northern Ireland’ Owen Patterson
    anyone who can help with Mr Lillis’ plight
    In conclusion, this is an obvious case where a human being is gravely ill, in constant pain and being kept in an environment where he is clearly not receiving anything like the medical care he needs. Mr Lillis’ family are imploringanyonewho can help with his plight to assist in whatever way they can. Mr Lillis’ case is a humanitarian issue that anyone, irrespective of political allegiance, can feel safe supporting. It is a sad indictment on society, in the 21st Century, that a human being is being held in these conditions.

    Mr Lillis’ partner Roisin has simply asked for help to save her partner’s life, don’t let her fight alone.

    By Iskra1916

  7. kruitvat Says:

    Brendan Lillis dies: Open Letter to the British Prime Minister…

    Brussels, 12 July 2011

    Prime Minister’s Office

    Dear Sir,

    During years and years, I am working about human rights, so well on a national as international level.

    I am very shocked by the violations of human rights and the many deaths and suicides in the prisons of Northern Ireland.

    I refer to the case of Brendan Lillis in the Maghaberry prison of Northern Ireland where 5 men died during the last months.

    Brendan Lillis is a very sick man. During several months, he is in bed. He cannot almost move or talk anymore. He can not eat or drink normally and risks every moment to die.

    I wrote to Pauline McCabe, Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, who answered me that she ‘can not be helpfull’ while her service investigates since 2005 all the deaths in prisons.

    We contacted Justice Minister David Ford who seems not to be worried about the life of Brendan Lillis and the inhuman situations in prisons.

    May I pray you to intervene in this tragical case ?

    Yours faithfully,

    Jan Boeykens

    Werkgroep Morkhoven
    Contact the Prime Minister’s Office

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