Prisoners Sue State For Being Forced To Clean Cells

Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show the State is facing almost 400 compensation claims from current and former prisoners who are claiming damages for the distress of cleaning out their cells and a lack of access to flushing toilets.

Among those suing for damages is Limerick gang leader Christy Keane, who is serving 10 years in Portlaoise for drugs possession.

Convicted kidnapper Edward Gaffey, who is serving a 12-year sentence in Cork for holding a family hostage, has also filed a claim. If the claims are approved, the taxpayer could be facing a massive legal bill.

At least 396 claims over slopping out are before the Irish Prison Service. In nearly 40 of these cases, preliminary summonses have been filed by claimants. Solicitor letters seeking apologies and damages have been filed by inmates and former prisoners.

Most of the slopping out claims cover prisons in Munster (255). Limerick Solicitor John Devane is taking the majority of cases on behalf of inmates. A further batch of claims relate to periods of detention where inmates have no direct access to flushing toilets, in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, and Portlaoise Prison.

Two women in the female prison, the Dóchas Centre, have also filed claims. In addition, four claims are lodged on behalf of former inmates at St Patrick’s institution for young offenders.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell insists cases will be “vigorously contested”. The claims began after a landmark case in Scotland in 2005 where inmate Robert Napier — sentenced to six years for holding up an ice-cream van — was awarded €8,600 compensation after spending 40 days in an overcrowded cell with no guaranteed access to a toilet.

Napier used the European Convention on Human Rights to sue prison management. But legal sources stress Napier’s case differed as he had a medical condition and issues about his cell.

Already, the veracity of some claims are under question with former inmates claiming periods of detention at locations where they were not held, at modern complexes where inmates never needed to ‘slop out’ or at prisons where the practice of ‘slopping out’ ended in the early 1990s.