A 29 year old prisoner, who was assessed by a prison nurse as not being at risk of suicide, showed no signs of delusional behaviour until the day before he tried to take his life, an inquest into the man’s death heard on Thursday.
Andrew Gearns, a father of two from Model Farm Road in Cork, died at Cork University Hospital on October 7th 2020, some nine days after he was found by prison staff unresponsive in his cell at Cork Prison after attempting to take his own life on September 28th.
At Cork City Coroner’s Court on Thursday, Irish Prison Service nurse manager, Enda Kelly said that Mr Gearns showed no sign of delusional behaviour from the time of his committal on a warrant on September 22nd until September 27th, the day before he attempted to take his own life.
Mr Kelly said Mr Gearns was suffering from delusional behaviour when he told prison officers on September 27th that he had been attacked in Blackpool the night before and that he had been stabbed and slashed and asked staff to check for wounds even though he was in custody at all times.
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The inquest had earlier heard that Mr Gearns was assessed by nurse Anna Lyons as not being a suicide risk as he had guaranteed his safety to her and said he would not self-harm at a committal interview on September 22nd while he also showed no sign of anxiety or distress at the interview.
Mr Kelly told barrister for the Irish Prison Service, Helen O’Driscoll BL that Mr Gearns’ behaviour from the time of his committal on September 22nd until the first documented reference to delusion on September 27th was “consistent with the assessment” made by nurse Lyons on committal.
The inquest had earlier heard from Mr Gearns’ mother, Aideen that she rang the prison immediately after her son rang her around midday on September 28th to tell her that he had been brought by a prison officer to a garage in Blackpool the night before where he was attacked and stabbed.
Ms Gearns said she thought she would “never get him (Andrew) off the phone” as she wanted to alert the prison to his state. “I dialled the prison straight away. Whatever he was saying he believed it – they told me they were aware of it and that they would keep a ‘closer eye’ (on her son).”
The inquest heard that prison staff checked on him 13 times from when they were contacted by Ms Gearns around midday until he was found unconscious and unresponsive in his cell by prison officer, Paul Cleary at 4.53pm.
Questioned by counsel for the Gearns family, Elizabeth O’Connell SC, who said the family felt “no one cared, no one was concerned” Mr Kelly disagreed, saying while it was clearly “a devastating experience for the family,” prison staff were also affected by Mr Gearns’ death.
“When someone takes their own life, it also takes a toll on staff …. everybody cares about what happens to prisoners, that is our role as professionals,” said Mr Kelly, adding there was not one tool available anywhere in the world that can be used as an indicator of suicide.
Questioned further by Ms O’Connell SC, Mr Kelly defended the assessment process which saw Mr Gearns not being deemed a suicide risk and being allocated to a normal landing rather than a special observation unit where prisoners are checked every 15 minutes by prison staff.
The committal interview was just the start of the assessment process and was followed up by meeting by a doctor the following day though in Mr Gearns’ case he opted not to be assessed by a doctor the next day and this was respected as it was his right to refuse to see the doctor.
Mr Kelly said Mr Gearns had been quarantined on his own in a double cell on the Normal Landing as he had complained that he had lost his sense of taste and smell and he was twice tested for Covid on September 23rd and September 25th, but the results had not come back before he self-harmed.
The inquest continues.
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