The Brian Maquire case - Questions for an inquest

IT seems that the issue of Brian Maguire's death will continue to bother Northern Secretary of State Roy Mason for some time yet. His attempt to speed the inquest into the death of the Castlereagh prissoner was stymied by the family's solicitor, Pascal O'Hare, who requested more time to examine evidence and assemble witnesses.

Maguire, whose death was described by Mason in Parliaament as Northern Ireland's "first prison suicide," was found dead hanging from a ventilator grill in his cell.

The inquest into Maguire's death was scheduled to be held June 26th, along with that of Jack McMahon, a 22-year-old alleged Provo from East Bellfast. McMahon was last seen alive in police custody before his body was fished out of a stagnant stretch of the River Lagan.

The normal period between death and inquest in the North is now between twelve and eighteen months, but the Maguire inquest was scheduled after an interval of only six weeks. This brought public charges of an R. U. C. whiteewash. Some observers claimed that the Northern Ireland Office wanted the business over while it was forced to share the media spotlight with the Ammnesty International report on R. U.c. interrogation methods.

O'Hare said, "We lawyers normally complain at delays in inquests but this is the first time I've ever objected to speed."

Mason appointed Peter Rawlinson, Chief Superintenndent of the Merseyside police, to head the R.U.C.'s internal inquiry. A day into the invesstigation, Rawlinson responded to doubts that it was technically feasible for a man to hang himmself in Maguire's cell. He postulated that Maguire could have ripped a strip of sheet from his bed, wetted it, and used the drying, contracting sheet to slowly throttle himself.

Meanwhile, O'Hare and a consultant engineer visited Maguire's cell and discovered that there were holes in the ventilator grill large enough to thread a sheet through, and that the grill was high enough for a hanging and strong enough to support the weight of a falling body.

So, if it was possible that Maguire, an apparently stable person, did commit suicide, the question still remains why. And how was he able to hang himself so quickly and why in a police complex bustling with breakfast activity and alive with warders was he not spotted?

The Maguire inquest is now planned for October, and 48 police witnesses, an unpreecedented number, are ready to give testimony. Rawlinson is likely to issue his report the same day. But given the North's track record on inquests, the public fear that the hanging was staged after an "accident" during interrogation will linger on •