Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 12:47 UK

Death probe delays 'unacceptable'

Maghaberry Prison
The Prisoner Ombudsman has criticised delays in death investigations

The Prisoner Ombudsman has said the amount of time it takes to investigate prisoners' deaths is unacceptable.

Pauline McCabe said her office was not given any additional resources when it was given responsibility for investigating jail deaths in 2005.

Ms McCabe also said that confidence in her office was being undermined, not only by the delays but also by a "current lack of independence".

She made the comments in her first annual report as Prisoner Ombudsman.

The former business consultant, who took up the post in September 2008, described her first year as Prisoner Ombudsman as "challenging" but said it was a privilege to do the job.

She also confirmed that she has recently secured some additional resources to carry out death in custody investigations.

Her office is in the process of examining the deaths of 11 prisoners.

Her report also recognises that the "sharp increase in the number of foreign national prisoners" has brought new challenges for the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

These figures have tripled in a three year period, from 181 in 2006/07 to 547 in 2008/09.

She said "Since taking up my post I have met all of the political parties to discuss the importance of placing the Office on a statutory footing.

"All recognise the need for this to be addressed, and it is my hope that this can be resolved as quickly as possible on the heels of the devolution of Policing and Justice."

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