Cork Prison faces ‘costly’ legal action over inmate murder
Graham Johnson’s family lodge High Court proceedings over Brian Veale’s kitchen job
Graham Johnson (42) suffered fatal chest and throat injuries in an attack at Cork Prison. Photograph: Provision
Cork Prison is facing two separate legal actions relating to the murder of an inmate in the prison kitchen by a man with a history of knife violence.
The family of Graham Johnson who was stabbed to death by Brian Veale in 2015 have lodged High Court proceedings against the governor of the prison and several other parties including the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General.
Veale was given a job in the kitchen a month after his arrest for three machete attacks in Cork city. He had been fired from the kitchen for aggressive outbursts during a previous prison sentence.
The legal actions have been taken in the names of Johnson’s two children who are both minors. The family is also suing Veale himself.
A former inmate in the prison, Ming Feng Chen, has also begun legal action against the prison governor and Veale. Feng Chen was one of the kitchen workers who witnessed the murder.
He told Veale’s trial last year that immediately after the stabbing Veale smiled at him and said, “If I get a life sentence, it doesn’t matter.”
A legal source familiar with the High Court cases said the Johnson family could be in line for substantial damages “if a failure in a duty of care can be established” on the part of the prison.
“Knowledge of and action taken in relation to the assailant’s violent history will be central to the case,” he said.
Court documents show that in February 2014, two months before the murder, Veale had attacked three people on the streets of Cork with a machete. One of the victims, a 19-year-old American student, suffered a fractured skull.
Veale punched another victim in the nose before pulling out the 2ft long machete and hitting her several times with it. He was arrested and remanded in Cork Prison. One month later, in March, he was assigned a job in the kitchen. In May he stabbed Johnson.
Veale was also jailed in 2009 for stabbing a man five times during a party in Waterford. He attacked the victim because he said he believed the man was propositioning him.
In total, Veale had committed 102 offences, including six assaults and three stabbings, when he was assigned to work in the kitchen and allowed access to knives.
In June 2015, the Johnson family asked the Office of the Inspector of Prisons why Veale was allowed work with knives given his recent violent history. They also asked when the last time a risk assessment was carried out on the kitchen and why there were no CCTV cameras there.
The inspector’s report noted that Veale had worked in the kitchen during a previous stay in prison and that officers reported him as “polite” and “a hard worker” who had never caused problems before. Officers told the inspector that “the views of the discipline chief officer were obtained before he was reemployed in the prison kitchen”.
However, informed sources said Veale was put out of the kitchen at least once before for his aggressive demeanour.
The report does not state if the chief officer knew of or took into account Veale’s recent violent knife attacks.
Helen Casey, interim inspector of prisons, in her report, which was completed in April, said in future there should be a multidisciplinary assessment of prisoners before they can work in the kitchen or with other sharp implements. She said that a written record of the assessment should be retained.
The report also noted that CCTV did not cover the kitchen because of cost restrictions. Ms Casey recommended that all communal areas of the prison should be covered by CCTV.
A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service refused to comment on the specifics of the Veale case, but said various assessments were carried out on prisoners before they were assigned jobs.
“The industrial manager conducts interviews of committals regarding work opportunities within the prison. The chief officer [security] also has an input into the decision [particularly the kitchen] as does the governor,” the spokesman said.
Graham Johnson started gambling at 14 years old. By the age of 38 his addiction had led to a five-year prison sentence. By the age of 42 he was dead.
His crimes resulted from frantic efforts to get money to feed his addiction. The father-of-two from Bandon, Co Cork had stolen €15,000 from his employer before carrying out a masked robbery of a goldsmith in Mallow.
Once in prison, Johnson appeared to do well. He got a job in a workshop repairing hurleys for clubs around the country. Reports stated he was a “very good worker” and he was soon put on the enhanced regime.
Just six months into his sentence he was moved to the Shelton Abbey open prison and after less than a year he was granted temporary release. He worked on a farm during the week and returned to prison at the weekend.
During this period he appeared to get to grips with his gambling problem. An addiction counsellor reported that he was “working well” and “engaging well”.
In 2014 Johnson was granted early release. However, in January 2015 he found himself back in Cork Prison after another court hearing. In March 2015 he got a job in the kitchen, working alongside the man who would murder him less than two months later.
Brian Veale’s reputation alone meant that even new inmates in Cork knew to watch what they said to him.
“He would smile at you one minute and then turn on you the next,” a former cellmate of Veale’s told The Irish Times. “He would just be chatting away to you and the next thing you’d know he’d hit you. He hit me twice.”
The cellmate said Veale wasn’t always on edge: “He liked to be talked to if you knew how to talk to him without setting him off.”
At the time Cork Prison was dangerously overcrowded and a job in the kitchen offered a respite from the potential for violence on the landings. Veale’s presence in the kitchen was therefore a source of tension among some of the other inmates there.
“The guards in the kitchen were more easygoing; you could have a bit of craic with them. It was a nice atmosphere,” Veale’s former cellmate said. The prisoners could also watch television while they worked. It was a row over that television that led to Johnson’s death.
Veale’s volatile demeanour and fascination with knives was obvious before the murder. On one of his brief periods of release he changed his Facebook profile photo to one of him smiling at the camera while holding a large blade.
His personality was perhaps best summed up by one of the women he assaulted and robbed with a machete in 2015.
“I hope he finds his own humanity,” she told a court hearing. “His eyes were cold, without pity, and hard . . . I was treated like a walking ATM. He demanded money and I didn’t have any.”