Visitor's face slashed in prison attack, court told


A Claddagh ring may have been modified to double as a secret weapon to slash a man's face under the noses of prison officers, a court heard yesterday.

Stringent searches both before and after a bloody attack on a visitor to Portlaoise prison failed to reveal any weapon, Judge Matthew Deery said in the Circuit Civil Court.

Judge Deery heard the attack was so vicious it led to a woman who witnessed it developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Breffni Gordon, counsel for Kathleen Cawley (32), Wolfe Tone Street, Cavan, said she became depressed and experienced nightmares and flashbacks.

He said Ms Cawley had been sitting talking to her boyfriend, a prisoner, in the visiting centre at Portlaoise Prison.

Two men, a visitor and a prisoner, were sitting across a table beside them when the prisoner slashed his visitor's face.

Mr Gordon said Ms Cawley saw the visitor grab his face as blood gushed from a slash wound. Prison guards took the attacker away.

Judge Deery, who heard that a weapon of any nature had never been found, told Paul O'Neill, counsel for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that the prison authorities had an adequate search protocol in place and could not be held to have been negligent.

Dismissing a claim for up to €38,000 damages by Ms Cawley against the Minister, Judge Deery said body and electronic searches had failed to uncover any blade. There had been a suggestion that a Claddagh ring may have been altered so that it could have been used as a blade.

He said there was little the prison authorities could do if a prisoner intent on causing harm and prepared to use devious means succeeded in defeating what was a most stringent screening process.

Judge Deery said the court had heard that the visitor who had been attacked had lit a cigarette while approaching the prisoner in the visiting centre. This had not been allowed and had upset the prisoner, who had put his arm around his visitor's neck in an embrace.

It was following the embrace that the wound and bleeding was seen by Ms Cawley.

Judge Deery said Ms Cawley's experience was not unlike some member of the public experiencing a serious road traffic incident. He said there had been medical evidence that Ms Cawley had previously suffered from depression, which had been exacerbated by the fact that her boyfriend was in prison.