Northern Ireland news

'Barbaric' conditions for dying Maghaberry inmate

Maghaberry prison in Co Antrim

THE family of a man who died "in agony" after spending 34 years behind bars have described conditions he faced in Maghaberry as "barbaric".

Alec Smyth suffered from severe mental problems and was "institutionalised" after serving the equivalent of two back-to-back life sentences since being jailed for murder in 1979 .

He died in December 2013, just two days after he was moved to hospital with the advanced stages of lung cancer.

He had spent the last 10 years of his sentence in virtual isolation and refused to take visits from his family for several years.

Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle was highly critical of the care the inmate received, after six opportunities to diagnose his cancer were missed.

He said: "His end of life experience emphasises the need for the prison healthcare reform project to deliver better diagnosis and palliative care."

Mr Smyth's next of kin said yesterday she only found out he'd been transferred to hospital to die after a former prisoner alerted the family.

"Otherwise Alex would have died alone. He'd got it in his head he was a burden to us and withdrawn completely," she said.

"When we arrived at the hospital I was shocked at the state he was in. The hospital staff were shocked as well, they were trying their best to help him but the pain had gone unmanaged for so long they couldn't get it under control.

"If you do wrong you should go to prison, that's not in question here, but to leave a person in conditions an animal wouldn't be left in, roaring in agony for not just months but years, that's not justice - that's barbaric."

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