The Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has said there were “very disturbing features” surrounding the murder of an inmate in a holding cell in Mountjoy Prison.
Mr McDowell made his comments after he launched an independent inquiry into the murder of 21 year-old inmate Gary Douch – the first time that such an inquiry has been established outside the remit of the prison service.
The Minister for Justice said part of the inquiry would focus on staffing and supervision issues in Mountjoy following reports that the inmate was subjected to an hour-long beating in a holding cell before his death.
“I don’t want to get into the blame game at this stage. I think I should wait for the report. But if some of the reports are true that this incident took over an hour then obviously there’s an issue in relation to supervision,” he said.
Mr McDowell said the inquiry, which is being headed up by the former deputy secretary of the Department of Justice, Michael Mellet, would also examine many other aspects surrounding Mr Douch’s violent death.
“There are issues in relation to the choice of people in that room, whether it was appropriate for them to be in that room together, whether some people should have been dealt with differently.
"There are a lot of issues and I don’t think that at this stage that I can call any of them."
Mr McDowell was speaking at the University of Limerick today, where he was attending a forum on public safety.
The Minister for Justice declined to state whether he was shocked to learn that seven inmates were sharing the holding cell where Mr Douch was beaten and strangled. However, he revealed that the issue of inmates sharing holding cells in Mountjoy pending transfers to other parts of the prison had already been brought to his attention.
“The Inspector of Prison had reported on that before and I had asked that his criticisms should be acted upon. I want to know whether that was done - but I understand that on this occasion a number of people were in that situation for a number of days and that’s another issue,” said Mr McDowell.
An internal inquiry in Mountjoy is also underway and gardaí are conducting a murder investigation into the killing of Mr Douch. Mr McDowell said he was reluctant to put a time-frame on the separate independent inquiry into the inmate’s death established by his department.
“I don’t want to put a time limit on it because I don’t want to rush it but I also think it’s extremely urgent that the problems which obviously arose there are dealt with very rapidly and that responsibility for the situation that happened is also established. We have to get to the bottom of this and find out what went wrong and make sure, in so far as we can, that nothing like this ever happens again.”