Witnesses identified in Douche inquiry

Thu, Apr 23, 2009, 01:00

A GOVERNMENT-appointed commission established to investigate the circumstances surrounding the killing of Gary Douche in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, has identified more than 100 possible witnesses.

The five inmates who shared a basement holding cell with the victim and his killer, Stephen Egan, during the fatal attack will appear before the hearing.

The prisoners did not appear as witnesses during Egan’s trial.

The barrister heading the commission of investigation, Gráinne McMorrow SC, has said her report should be ready before the end of next January.

Ms McMorrow told The Irish Times yesterday that her plans to hear evidence from witnesses had been delayed because of Egan’s trial. If she had held parallel hearings and some of the witnesses were witnesses in the criminal trial there was a danger the trial could have been derailed, she said.

A total of 112 possible witnesses had been identified. Many of these would give oral evidence, in private, before the commission.

The evidence of other witnesses might be taken from written statements given during investigations into Mr Douche’s death carried out by the Garda, Irish Prison Service and Michael Mellett.

Mr Mellett, former deputy secretary at the Department of Justice, carried out an investigation on behalf of the Government in the aftermath of the killing. Ms McMorrow said as well as the inmates in the cell with the victim and killer on the night in question, evidence would also be heard from staff on duty in Mountjoy and from those who made decisions about the movement of prisoners within the jail.

Ms McMorrow’s report will not only comment on the killing. It will also take a holistic view on the treatment of mentally ill criminals, the protection of vulnerable and disturbed inmates, staff training, overcrowding and international best practice.

She will make recommendations on issues arising from Douche’s killing and on the wider operation of the prison system.

The commission’s report will be sent to the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern. Ms McMorrow said she believes it will be published. Stephen Egan (25) of Belcamp Crescent, Coolock, killed Gary Douche on August 1st, 2006, after being transferred to the over-crowded prison without anti-psychotic drugs prescribed to him.

On Tuesday Egan, who suffers from schizo-affective disorder, was found not guilty of the murder, but guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

A forensic consultant psychiatrist, Prof Tom Fahy, told the trial Egan had paranoid beliefs focused on his victim when he stamped on him, punched him and kicked him to death. He killed Douche in a holding cell the two men were sharing with five others. Like Douche, all of the other inmates, except Egan, were being housed in the basement cell for the purposes of being protected from other inmates. Egan was in the cell because the jail was overcrowded.

The executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Liam Herrick, said it was essential adequate funding and resources were given to the McMorrow Inquiry. Overcrowding was now worse in Mountjoy than in 2006 while prison violence had also worsened. It was unclear if psychiatric care for prisoners had improved.

Ms McMorrow has worked as a criminal defence barrister in the UK and Ireland. She has specialised in cases involving mentally ill people. She was the founder member of Sane, a UK organisation dealing with mentally ill people in custodial settings.