In-house investigations must end - Crowe
Sinn Féin's Social Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe TD called for an independent investigation into the death of Gary Douche in Mountjoy Prison in July and the establishment of a Prisoner's Ombudsman. He was speaking in the Dáil after it was revealed that the cell in which Mr Douche was killed was destroyed before it could be examined by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Deputy Crowe went on to call on the Government to ratify Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and bring to an end the practice of 'in-house' investigations into deaths in Garda or prison custody.
The Dublin South-West TD said: "On the 31st of July last, 21 year old prisoner Gary Douche made a request to prison officers in Mountjoy for protection. They placed him in a holding cell in the basement with at least five other inmates where he was subsequently battered to death. That cell was demolished by the Prison Service before the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture could inspect it this week.
"Every state failure to protect the lives of those in custody, whether in a Garda station or in a prison, must be the subject of an independent investigation, nothing less. In August an investigation was established by the Minister for Justice to be conducted by an official from the Department of Justice reporting back to the Minister for Justice.
"As argued by the Irish Penal Reform Trust "Surely, a truly independent inquiry, by definition, must include investigators who are not part of the bureaucracy and ethos of the Prison Service and the Department of Justice." The investigation established by the Minister could be described as more 'in house' than 'independent' and as such it falls far short of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
"As I mentioned earlier, inspectors from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment (CPT) tasked with monitoring standards in our prison system are visiting this week. The Government was notified of the timing of this visit earlier this year. The CPT Inspectors could have conducted a genuinely independent investigation into the circumstances leading to and surrounding the death of Gary Douche. They were denied the opportunity to do this because the Prison Service demolished the cell where his murder took place.
"I sincerely hope that this action by the Prison Service does not turn out to be an indication of a culture of cover-up akin to that operating within the Garda Siochána. Twenty year old Terence Wheelock died in Garda custody in June 2005. Gardaí claimed he had hung himself but it is widely believed that he died as a result of Garda brutality. The Wheelock family's solicitor secured a court order to preserve the cell for forensic evidence. However, the order was disregarded and the cell was completely renovated destroying all evidence.
"We must question and get to the bottom of the Prison Service's motive for destroying the holding cell in Mountjoy. They destroyed it before the report of the internal investigation into Gary Douche's murder was published, and to the best of my knowledge before this report has been submitted to the Minister. They destroyed it before any related charges have been laid by the Gardaí. They destroyed it before the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture could inspect it. At best the actions of the Prison Service amount to negligence -- at worst cover-up.
"I am calling on the Minister today to arrange for a truly independent investigation into the death of Gary Douche and all deaths occurring in custody or shortly after custody. I am calling on the Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture as is required by the equivalence provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. I am calling on the Minister to introduce legislation that would place the Prisons Inspector on a statutory footing, introduce a Prisoners Ombudsman and remove the current exemption of children in detention from the remit of the Children's Ombudsman. And I am calling on the Government to establish and resource an adequate number of mental health treatment centres with appropriate levels of security to bring an end to the practice where the prison system acts as a dumping ground for people suffering mental illness.
"Only truly independent inquiries will uncover the truth and allow lessons to be learnt. By insisting on 'in house' investigations and allowing the destruction of evidence the Government is learning no lessons. Building a superprison will do nothing to prevent the murder, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners it will simply replicate these conditions on a larger scale."