Inquiries follow suicide of woman in Mountjoy

 

GARDAÍ AND the Irish Prison Service have launched separate inquiries into the suicide of a female prisoner in the women’s Dóchas Centre at the Mountjoy Prison complex in Dublin.

The case is the first suicide in the women’s prison for a decade and only the second since the Dóchas Centre opened in 1999, according to prison sources.

The dead woman, Ruth Murphy (48), from Ashford, Co Wicklow, was serving life for the murder of her 7-year-old son, Karl. She drowned the boy, her only child, on a Wicklow beach in 2001 after a night-time picnic.

She had an alcohol problem, her marriage had broken down and she had undergone psychiatric treatment.

She was found in her room in the Dóchas Centre at around 1am yesterday and the alarm was raised by prison officers. Ms Murphy was taken by ambulance to the Mater hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

A spokesman for the prison service confirmed the death.

Ms Murphy had a room in a house within the prison complex, where she lived with a number of other inmates.

Many of the rooms have been fitted with bunk beds to alleviate chronic overcrowding, but Ms Murphy was in her room on her own when she took her life.

Reliable sources said she was a “tragic and timid” woman who “suffered every day with guilt for what she had done”.

“She had engaged with the services on offer for her drink problem. She was the kind of woman you wouldn’t even know was in the place, she was that quiet,” one source said.

Her suicide comes three months after the former governor of the Dóchas Centre, Kathleen McMahon, took early retirement, saying her position had been made impossible by the Irish Prison Service.

She said overcrowding had made the centre a “dreadful place”, adding a new policy of refusing temporary release to women for family events was mean-spirited.

She warned a culture of bullying and self-harm would emerge.

The Irish Timesunderstands Ruth Murphy had been granted temporary release to visit her son’s grave every month, but that these visits had been scaled back in recent times. She last visited the grave in the past fortnight.

One source said she had become very depressed, had lost a considerable amount of weight and had rarely left her room in recent weeks.

She was almost seven years into her life sentence and was scheduled to go before the Parole Board in coming weeks so her possible release could be considered.

Her sentencing hearing in 2004 was told she had a serious alcohol problem, and that she was the subject of a barring order in 1998 in relation to the family home at Ashford, Co Wicklow.

She ran a printing business with her husband, but the marriage ran into difficulties in the late 1990s.

On June 22nd, 2001, she had a supervised access visit with her son. She took him from the house where he was being cared for and drove him to the north beach in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

They drank Coke and had sandwiches on what was the warmest night of the year. She then drowned Karl, whose body was spotted on the beach at 10.40pm. Ms Murphy was found in a cave near the body.

She was in an “incoherent state” and her clothes were wet. She had a high alcohol level in her blood and there were traces of anti-anxiety drugs in her system.