Longford Leader columnist Mattie Fox: Difficult to accept that ‘systems failure’ contributed to a young man’s death

Mattie Fox


Mattie Fox



'Unbelievable': €10,000 remains missing from safe in Limerick Prison

Limerick Prison, where 32-year-old Sean Hayes Barrett died in 2017

Imagine, a man who has almost reached 32 years of age, suffering from a psychiatric condition, dying in a cell in Limerick prison, without any explanation, except a ‘systems failure in relation to his incarceration’ as his inquest was told?

No? You cannot imagine?

Me neither.

Sean Hayes Barrett was just six weeks before his 32nd birthday, when he died on May 5, 2017, alone in a cell, in Limerick prison.

He spent five weeks in a psychiatric ward at University Hospital Limerick and had no record of being arrested prior to this incarceration on April 16, 2017 and he had no previous convictions.

The story - by David Raleigh - was published in The Irish Times on Saturday, and since then I’ve been baffled, and bothered by such a terrible happening.

Jerry Twomey, solicitor for the Hayes Barrett family after the inquest said that ‘Sean had never been in any trouble whatsoever in his life.To this day he’s never been convicted of a single criminal offence’.

Sean was on medication to treat signs of suicidal ideation, but it was accepted that while he was being held in Limerick prison he was not given adequate doses of his medication.

Sean Hayes Barrett’s family said they had still not been told why he was arrested.

A handwritten note was found in his cell.

In evidence, Governor of Limerick Prison, Mark Kennedy, said prison officers who were on duty at the jail on the night of May 5, were given no prior knowledge of Mr Hayes Barrett’s medical history.

They were ‘not aware’ he was on a list of prisoners for special observation, which as part of the prison’s own protocols, require that a prisoner should be checked every fifteen minutes.

The inquest heard that Mr Hayes Barrett should have been checked thirty six times, but was checked on only nine occasions.

One quarter of the time allotted by the prisons own protocols!

Sean had complained to a loved one during a recorded telephone call made from the prison, that his mental health was suffering because he was being kept in a cell on his own.

“It’s too hard, I’m not able for the isolation, the isolation is too hard on me,” he said during the phone call.

The Gardai carried out investigations, as did the Inspector of Prisons, and Limerick prison into his death.

Governor Kennedy said footage of CCTV from the jail, which was requested by the Inspector of Prisons had “disappeared”, most likely due to “human error” when it was being transferred “by our IT Department” to the Inspectors office.

He agreed prison officers were not aware Mr Hayes Barrett was a special obs prisoner. He said the prison’s “manual system” at the time whereby a ‘list of special obs prisoners would be printed out and left for staff on a sheet of paper wasn’t robust’.

“We weren’t 100 per cent that the officers on the night go the up to date special obs list,” Mr Kennedy added.

Prison protocols at the time meant it was “physically impossible” for staff to make all their checks and deal with any other emergency situations that could arise within the prison population, he said.

“We didn’t abide by our own protocols. Our own protocols were that he needed to be checked every fifteen minutes and that didn’t happen,” Mr Kennedy said.

He suggested, “It is fair to say this case was a landmark case, and, as a result of Sean’s death the whole system has changed throughout the prison service.”

The Coroner recorded an open verdict, and Solicitor Twomey remarked afterwards, “The coroner recognised the many shortcomings of the prison service while Sean was in their care.”

I suspect this story isn’t over yet.