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Legal challenge against Southern Trust as mentally unfit man ‘languishes’ in prison

Dungannon Court

Legal proceedings have been launched against the Southern Health and Social Care Trust amid claims of failures to provide suitable accommodation for a man found to be mentally unfit, but “languishing” in prison as he cannot be released.

Although Frank McGirr (66) of Shanliss Road, Stewartstown has been granted bail, he cannot return to his home, and given his lack of capacity and requirement of care and supervision, defence lawyers contend the onus falls on the Southern Trust to provide alternative arrangements.

However having conducted an assessment, the Trust do not believe Mr McGirr’s health is any worse than a year ago – a position the defence describe as: “quite impossible”.

Currently, Mr McGirr is accused of a number of matters, which include harassing his neighbours.

He was under a Probation Order for other offending which has since been revoked, as his remand in custody preventing this being completed.

Due to lack of capacity, the harassment matters are to transfer to crown court, which is the statutory venue in such instances.

The Public Prosecution Service have accepted the position and are preparing the relevant papers, ahead of a committal hearing.

Dungannon Magistrates’ Court was previously advised Mr McGirr was assessed by two senior consultants and found mentally unfit in November 2020, leading District Judge Michael Ranaghan to remark: “Prison is not the place for this man given his conditions. It is wholly inappropriate.”

However, at the most recent sitting it emerged the issue is no further forward, and Mr McGirr remains in custody.

Defence barrister Blaine Nugent advised Judicial Review proceedings at High Court are under way against the Southern Trust, with a pre-hearing taking place last week.

Mr Nugent said: “We have made the case the Trust are under a significant onus and duty to have this man housed somewhere, because quite frankly, it isn’t good enough that he’s languishing in custody. He has been granted bail and no address has been provided, given the significant care needs he is subject to, which includes a full-time care package.”

He explained the Trust conducted an assessment of Mr McGirr earlier this month and: “Found no difference since the same time last year. With the greatest respect, that’s quite impossible, because he’s now in custody and his mental health has deteriorated further, to the extent medical professionals provided very detailed reports on capacity. Both cannot be correct and either the Trust is mistaken as to their responsibilities or the medical professionals and my client’s current location are wrong. I expect matters to come to a head shortly.”

Speaking afterwards, defence solicitor Conal McGarrity said: “I can confirm Judicial Review proceedings have been issued against the Southern Health and Social Care Trust on behalf of our client Mr McGirr, challenging their continuing failure to properly assess and provide access to suitable accommodation, pursuant to their statutory duties. The case will be reviewed again next week and we intend to seek an expedited hearing.”

The Southern Trust were contacted but had not responded at the time of publication.

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