Sunday 15 September 2019

Inmate sent to mental hospital after slashing prison officer with razor blade

Fiona Ferguson and Declan Brennan

AN INMATE who assaulted a prison officer with a razor blade while suffering from hallucinations has been committed to the Central Mental Hospital for treatment.

Two weeks ago a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury found James Burns (27) not guilty by reason of insanity of assault causing harm and possession of a razor blade at Mountjoy prison, Dublin, on August 20, 2010.

Burns of Navan Road, Dublin, admitted grabbing the head of prison officer John Gilligan and cutting him across the face with the blade.

He also admitted punching the prison officer in the mouth and chasing him out of his prison cell before other prison officers managed to overpower him.

During the trial the court heard that Burns is a paranoid schizophrenic who suffers from delusions of persecution and at the time was suffering from an acute relapse of mental illness.

Dr Paul O’Connell, consultant forensic psychiatrist, said Burns had been hearing voices in his head telling him he was going to be raped by prison officers.

Following the conviction earlier this month, Judge Patrick McCartan had ordered that Burns be reassessed and the results of this assessment presented to the court.

Judge McCartan today considered a report from consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Sally Linehan and committed Burns to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) for treatment as required by legislation until a further order reviewing his detention is made.

In relation to a separate incident, Burns today pleaded guilty to assaulting two gardai at the Bridewell Garda station on May 30, 2009.

Judge McCartan said it was clear Burns was critically ill and he was not going to interfere with his treatment at the CMH. He imposed a two-year sentence which he suspended in full and wished Burns “the best of luck”.

During the trial the jury heard Burns was serving a nine-month sentence after he was caught carrying a wrench while under a suspended sentence.

He had applied for temporary release and was hoping to be let out, because of prison overcrowding, around the time of the attack.

In the days before the attack he found a razor blade left in a storeroom. He also told prison officers he was going to hurt somebody if he was not let out.

Burns later told Dr O’Connell that the night before the assault three prison officers had gone into his cell and that he could hear them telepathically saying that they were going to rape him.

Dr Linehan said in a report presented at the trial that Mr Burns was suffering at the time from an acute relapse of mental illness and that he believed his actions were justified to protect himself from rape.

In relation to the assault on gardai, Sergeant Dermot Harrington told Pieter Le Vert BL, prosecuting, that gardai became aware a car registered to Burns had been involved in a collision.

When they attended the scene they found Burn’s car abandoned and the driver of the other car made a report.

Gardai went to Burn’s address and he agreed he would go with them to the scene of the accident “to clear his name”. The other driver identified him and Burns was arrested.

Gardai decided to search him at the station after observing him putting something into his trousers. Due to his aggression after being arrested a number of gardai brought him to an interview room to be searched.

He appeared to be chewing the inside of his mouth and gardai noticed blood.

Burns was asked to remove whatever he was concealing but he told gardai: “You’re not putting a finger on me.”

A scuffle broke out and one garda was bitten while another sustained a scratch. Both gardai have since fully recovered.

Sgt Harrington said Burns has 12 previous convictions in Ireland and 76 in Northern Ireland.

Ann Marie Whelan BL, defending, said Burns had been resident in the CMH since November 2010. He had been also assessed by Dr O’Connell in relation to this case.

She said Burns had concealed a drug known as “snow blow” in his trousers, which was not illegal at that time, but objected to being searched by gardai because he had no underpants on.

She asked the court not to interfere with his treatment in the CMH by imposing a custodial sentence.

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