09 Aug 2022

Judge claims Derry people with ‘mental health problems’ being abandoned by the government after woman found on bridge appears in court

Derry’s Resident Magistrate has said that people with mental health problems in this jurisdiction have been ‘abandoned by the government’. District Judge Barney McElholm questioned whether this jurisdiction has been unfavourably ‘singled out’ as he dealt with a woman with ‘entrenched’ issues who requires medical help. Leona Devlin, 36, of Spencer Road, appeared in court for breaching her bail conditions after ‘being found on the bridge’. A condition of her bail was to attend with her GP immediately upon release and seek referral to mental health services. It stated she must fully engage with all medical professionals and recommended courses of medication, treatment and/or counselling in relation to mental health and/or substance addiction issues. Her original charges are for placing an article on Spencer Road which caused a bomb hoax on October 28 of last year and possessing a knife at Altnagelvin hospital on February 8 of this year. It was the second time the defendant had appeared in court this week for breaching that condition after police located her on the bridge. A police officer suggested remanding her in custody was the only option. However, defence counsel Stephen Chapman said his client ‘needs treatment for her mental health’ and asked the court to remove the bail condition. She is due to be sentenced in ‘ten days’ time’, he explained, and hasn’t committed any further offences. District Judge Barney McElholm said police had no other option but to arrest her and take her for an assessment to see if she was fit to be released. The defendant ‘won’t cooperate’ with the police or mental health professionals and she is ‘tying up police resources’, he added. The judge said the court is not equipped to deal with such ‘entrenched’ mental health problems and the problem has gotten worse since the idea of Care in the Community was brought in. “It was a regime completely lacking in integrity which was designed to save money and to shut down various mental health institutions. There is nowhere for addicts or people with entrenched mental health issues,” he added. The District Judge said that those in government are leaving it to the courts to deal with the problem, but courts ‘don’t have the resources’. “I’m worried about the next time, if police don’t get there on time,” he said. “Locking her up is doing no good and short prison sentences are no good for anyone. “I find these people are being abandoned by the government. “I can appreciate the police dilemma and I can’t remove the condition as I want to make sure she attends appointments. “But if I were the police I wouldn’t take her to Altnagelvin, I would take her to Grangewood and say, ‘we found her on the bridge, you’re mental health professionals, do your job’.” The District Judge continued: “There is a complete dearth of mental health services in this jurisdiction, I’m not sure if it’s the case in the rest of the UK or if it’s a case we’ve been singled out unfavourable again.” Devlin was released on the same conditions to appear in court on June 22 and Judge McElholm suggested the PSNI should take her to Gransha if the same thing happened again.

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