A prison hospital wing in Magilligan where a Castlerock man contracted a deadly water-borne disease was replaced with a state-of-the-art facility soon afterwards, an inquest has heard.
John Russell, 64, was an inmate at Magilligan and a cancer sufferer when his health was noticed to have deteriorated in the prison’s health care centre in January 2007.
He was taken to the Causeway Hospital by ambulance where he died 11 days later on February 8. A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Russell had contracted a form of Legionnaire’s disease.
The legionella bacteria is commonly found, and often harmless, in natural sources of water like rivers and lakes, but able to multiply rapidly if it contaminates the water supplies of buildings.
At the hearing in Belfast on Monday, staff nurse Karen Boyd told coroner Jim Kitson that on January 29 she checked on Mr Russell and was immediately concerned by his breathing difficulties and blue-tinged lips.
She said that although the building was quite old fashioned, the staff kept it “scrupulously clean” at all times.
Mrs Boyd added: “That unit is no longer in use. Things have definitely moved on. The prisoners were moved out and the new unit was opened up.”
At a previous inquest hearing earlier this year it was revealed that there is disagreement between the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), which has responsibility for some aspects of public property management, and the private company Nalco which was contracted to manage the prison’s water system, over some aspects of the responsibilities of each body.
Quoting from a witness statement, coroner’s counsel Mark Reel said: “One of these issues is the liaison and to what extent it operated, or did not operate and why, between Nalco, DFP and Prison Service.
“That would appear to be an issue that is relevant to this inquest.”
At Monday’s hearing Mr Reel told the jury of six men and four women that water samples taken from the water supply at the prison health centre “were found to contain the exact same sub strain” of the legionella bacteria discovered in the lungs of Mr Russell.
Following Mr Russell’s death, a detailed investigation by the Health and Safety Executive discovered high levels of legionella bacteria in the unit’s hot and cold water system.
Although this was a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Order, no criminal proceedings could be taken against the Prison Service because of Crown immunity.
The hearing continues.