12 May 2006

Derry prisoner denied visit to dying brother

Derry Journal

12 May 2006

Tony Burke is in the last seven months of his sentence at Magilligan and applied for compassionate parole to see his brother who is critically ill in Altnagelvin. It is the fourth member of Tony Burke's family to be in this situation.
Earlier this week he was told that he had been refused parole and when contacted by the 'Journal' the Prison Service said the patient was not critical. However, yesterday the Prison Service admitted that the patient was critical and that they were considering Tony Burke's case again.
Yesterday afternoon the Prison Service then offered the prisoner a visit with his brother escorted by two Prison Officers. However the Prison Service then said they could not get any volunteers so Tony Burke would not get the visit. However, yesterday evening Mr. Burke himself contacted this paper to say he had told by some prison officers in Magilligan that they had not even been asked if they were prepared to volunteer.
Two years ago the prisoner was released to see his dying sister and returned 24 late. Since then he has been denied compassionate parole, despite the deaths of two sisters and a brother.
Last night his solicitor, Mr. Johnny Sandhu, said it was 'an absolute disgrace' the way that this prisoner was being treated. He told the 'Journal': "I have instigated a judicial review of the decision to refuse Tony Burke parole.
"This is the fourth family member who is dying and he has been refused parole in every case since he returned 24 late on one occasion. I think the idea of seeking volunteers is also a disgrace as I would see through it if they were being asked to go into a dangerous area but Altnagelvin Hospital is hardly that dangerous."
Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin also hit out at the decision to refuse Tony Burke parole. He said: "It is ridiculous that prison officers can refuse to escort a prisoner to the bedside of a dying relative.
"There is no reason whatsoever that this man cannot be brought to the hospital by someone to see his brother."
Critically ill
Last night the Prison Service said: "The Prison Service can confirm that Mr Burke made an application for compassionate temporary release to visit a critically ill relative.
"In assessing such applications the Service must carefully consider a number of factors including the risk to the public and the possibility of the individual re-offending or absconding. This must be measured against the needs of the prisoner
"After careful consideration the decision has been taken on this occasion to refuse Mr Burke compassionate temporary release.
"It should be pointed out that Mr Burke absconded in August 2004 after being granted a period of compassionate temporary release to attend the funeral of a family member. He was on that occasion accompanied by his solicitor."

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