Statewatch article: RefNo# 27660
Northern Ireland: The Death in Custody of Roseanne Irvine by Phil Scraton
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 17 no 1 January-March 2007
The NIPS [Northern Ireland Prison Service] wishes to express its sympathy to the friends and relatives of Roseanne Irvine, a 34 year old female remand prisoner who was found dead in her cell at around 22.15hrs last night in Mourne House, Maghaberry. Her next of kin and the Coroner have been informed. (Northern Ireland Prison Service press release, 4 March 2004)

On 13 February 2007 following a week-long inquest into Roseanne's death, the jury returned a damning narrative verdict. It stated: "The prison system failed Roseanne". She had taken her own life while the "balance of her mind was disturbed". Reflecting on prison officers' and managers' evidence that had demonstrated a fatal mix of complacency, incompetence and negligence, the jury noted the significance of "the events leading up to her death, ie long history of mental health difficulties specifically the incidents that occurred from 1-3 March".

The "defects" in the system listed by the jury were: "Severe lack of communication and inadequate recording"; "The management of the IMR21 (failure to act)"; "Lack of healthcare and resources for women prisoners". These had contributed to Roseanne's death as follows: "All staff were not aware of Roseanne's circumstances and could not act accordingly"; "Priority should have been made to see a doctor"; "Hospital wing was inadequate for female prisoners". The jury listed four "reasonable precautions" that had been neglected: "Could have been taken to an outside hospital/out of [hours] call doctor"; "Full briefing during handovers"; "Decisions to be moved from C1 to C2 should not have been made by a non-medically trained qualified staff member"; "To be paired up with friend in cell more checks". "Other factors" were: "Prison is not a suitable environment for someone with a personality/mental health disorder. Under Northern Ireland's Mental Health legislation there is no other alternative"; "more ongoing training on suicide awareness for prison staff".

The Coroner announced his intention to write to the Director of the Prison Service and to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Spontaneous applause from the three rows of family members erupted as the jury left the court. The verdict illustrated systemic failings in a prison severely criticised by the Prisons Inspectorate following its inspection in May 2002. Four months later Annie Kelly took her own life in a strip cell in the punishment block. At the time of the research, early in 2004, far from there being improvements in the regime to rectify its failings, it had deteriorated further. In particular vulnerable women suffering mental ill-health endured the consequences (see Scraton and Moore 2005).

In 2005 an inquest jury heavily criticised the Prison Service for its contribution to the death of Annie Kelly. The Human Rights Commission reiterated its call for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding both deaths encompassing the broader issues of institutional failings, managerial incompetence and regime breakdown.

"Failure to Agree"

Born October 1969 in Belfast Roseanne Irvine was the youngest in a family of seven children. According to her pre-sentence report she witnessed and was subjected to violence within the family although one of her sisters recalls a happy childhood. She enjoyed school, left at 16 to enrol at a youth training scheme and then worked in a local factory. In 1991 she became pregnant. Soon after the birth of her daughter she began to suffer from depression followed by alcohol dependency. From early 1994 until September 2001 she was treated on 38 separate occasions for anxiety, depression, alcohol intoxication, overdosing, self harm and attempted suicide. This included numerous admissions to hospital, mental health and psychiatric units. In 2001 a consultant psychiatrist diagnosed "chronic psychosocial maladjustment" exacerbated by alcohol abuse. This was interpreted as "borderline personality disorder".
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