Family challenge prison service over son's death

Joseph Rainey's family say they have been left with many unanswered questions /

By Niall McCracken

PRISON authorities were warned by police about the fragile mental state of a young inmate only hours before a suicide bid that later claimed his life.

Police records seen by The Detail state that 20-year-old Joseph Rainey was “suicidal” and “had depression” before being handed over to Hydebank Wood Young Offender’s Centre, but within hours he was rushed to hospital with life threatening injuries

His family are now demanding to know whether prison authorities could have done more to prevent his death.

There is no allegation of wrongdoing against prison staff but the circumstances of the death are being investigated by the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, with a final report expected before the end of the year.

The West Belfast man was arrested for attempted burglary at a city centre clothes shop but his parents knew nothing of what happened until they received a phone call from prison authorities informing them that he had attempted suicide.

His father Tom said: “We were told that he was mumbling and breathing and that they had resuscitated him and that he was on his way to hospital.”

He added: “From then on it was our worst nightmare.”

The 20-year-old spent ten days in a coma and was granted bail while dying in hospital.

The Rainey family said the decision to grant bail before his death led to confusion about whether or not the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) would recognise their son’s case as a death in custody.

Joseph Rainey’s death did not initially appear in prison custody death figures released by prison authorities in May this year, however it was included in figures specifically requested by The Detail earlier this month.

In a statement to The Detail the prison service confirmed that where a prisoner dies in hospital of injuries sustained in prison, it still records the death as being in custody.

We asked NIPS to comment on why the case did not initially appear in figures released earlier this year, but in a statement to The Detail a spokesperson said: “This case is subject to an investigation by the Prisoner Ombudsman. Until that has concluded it would not be appropriate to make further comment.”

Joseph Rainey’s case comes to prominence today as a major Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) report has called on prison authorities to improve how they tackle issues of self-harm, suicide, bullying and drug misuse in local prisons.


Joseph Rainey was arrested by police on the evening of April 7 2013 for alleged criminal damage and attempted burglary at a clothes shop in Belfast city centre.

He spent 38 hours in police custody before being transferred to Hydebank Wood Young Offenders’ Centre. Six hours later he was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital after he was found hanging in his cell.

This was Joseph’s fourth time in Hydebank Wood, having been released from prison just 18 days previously.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Joseph’s parents told The Detail that they constantly worried about their son.

His father Tom said: “Joseph was a gullible young lad. The type of crimes he had been arrested for in the past was for things like stealing sun cream. There was never any problems in terms of Joseph ever hurting anybody else, the only person who was ever going to get hurt in this life was Joseph.”

Joseph’s mother has described the shock and horror she felt when the prison service phoned to say what had happened to her son.

She said: “I just broke down. It was very stressful and confusing because we didn’t even know that he had been in prison and I was trying to get my head around what we were being told.”


Joseph Rainey's parents are still trying to come to terms with what happened to their son

Joseph Rainey's parents are still trying to come to terms with what happened to their son

Joseph was initially treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital but the next day he was transferred to Belfast City Hospital so that further tests could be carried out. The results showed that he had severe brain damage.

Joseph remained in a coma for ten days before he died.

Two days before his death, he was granted bail by a magistrate’s court.

The Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigates the death of any prisoner, including those that die within 14 days of being released from prison custody.

In the months that followed their son’s death, Joseph’s parents became concerned that the bail issue would mean the prison service would not have to recognise Joseph’s case as a death in custody.

The prison service’s definition of a death in custody applies to any death that occurs in a prison establishment, including those temporarily absent but still in custody, such as those under escort, at court or in hospital.

It usually excludes individuals released from custody, whether temporarily or permanently.

However in a statement to The Detail the prison service said that where a prisoner dies in hospital of injuries sustained in prison, it records the death as being in custody.

After carrying out their own research online, Joseph’s parents discovered statistics released by NIPS in May this year.

The prison service figures provided details of all prisons deaths in recent years, including deaths that occurred later in hospital, in transport, or deaths at home on leave, from 1990 to the present day.

Despite the fact that the information was released in May 2014 and Joseph’s death had occurred over a year earlier, his death did not feature in the statistics.

However updated death in custody statistics released to The Detail by the prison service in October this year now include a reference to Joseph’s case.

The Detail asked the prison service to explain the discrepancy in the figures, but in a statement the prison service said it could not comment while the Prisoner Ombudsman’s investigation was ongoing.

Joseph’s father said he believes that his son’s death should have been included in the original death in custody statistics released by the service.

He said: “We got him back as an empty shell, that’s not what went into prison.

“What went into prison was a young lad of twenty years of age with his whole life ahead of him. They sent us out a shell.

“When we discovered that he wasn’t in those initial statistics…it makes us wonder if he’s just a number to the authorities.”

The family’s solicitor, Niall Murphy of KRW solicitors, said: “We look forward to a robust and independent report by the Prison Ombudsman, which is clear in its analysis of fault and allocation of responsibility.

“Joseph’s family cannot proceed to the inquest until such time as this report is published.”

Joseph’s parents say there are a number of issues they want addressed about his vulnerability going into prison.

His mother said: “They [the prison authorities] were the last ones to see our son alive, so there’s a lot of questions we want answered, mainly could our son’s death been avoided altogether?”

Anyone affected by any of the issues raised in this story can seek advice and support from the samaritans .

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