Widow of veteran sues for compensation

A St Helens woman is accusing the authorities of negligence in the prison suicide of her husband, reports Roger Pearson.

The widow of Gulf War veteran John Callaghan, who hanged himself in Strangeways prison, is taking the MoD, the Home Office and the St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust to the High Court in a claim for compensation.

John Callaghan, who was jailed for drugs offences, used his shoe laces to hang himself from his cell door on 7 May 1996. Now his widow, Amanda Callaghan, has launched a damages claim, accusing the Government and the health trust of negligence and breach of duty.

Mrs Callaghan, of St Helens, Merseyside, who is represented by Penningtons, says in a claim issued at London's High Court that the MoD was negligent in sending her husband to the Gulf War between December 1990 and April 1991, when he was not fit for duty because of lower back pain.

She claims he was unable to defend or protect himself properly and developed post-traumatic stress disorder and Gulf War Syndrome, which was diagnosed in about 1995. She accuses the MoD of failing to test his mental and physical state and of not providing him with advice and treatment by a psychiatrist during the Gulf War or afterwards.

The claim says that his deteriorating behaviour and requests to leave the army were totally out of character and should have been recognised as such by his superior officers and medical officers.

She claims the Home Office was negligent because, despite knowing that he was a high suicide risk, it wrongly assessed him as a low risk when he arrived at the prison on 13 April 1996.

And she says it failed to continue his medication, which included Prozac, Carbimazapam and Mogadon, despite warnings from a doctor and the Ty Gwyn Medical Centre that they were essential. She claims the Home Office ignored all warnings about the likelihood of his committing suicide in prison; failed to take notice of the seriousness of his condition; failed to take him into the prison hospital wing; failed to provide 24-hour supervision; and failed to take the elementary precaution of removing his shoelaces.

She is accusing the health authority of negligence for wrongly failing to authorise and pay for the immediate admission of her husband to Ty Gwyn Medical Centre as recommended by two doctors; wrongly treating him as a low suicide risk; and failing to find an alternative place for him.

She says that the health authority ignored a letter from Bolton Crown Court's chief clerk which passed on the judge's sentencing remarks, including a plea that Callaghan should be dealt with under the Mental Health Act, and refused to pay for his placement at Ty Gwyn.