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    <TD vAlign=center width="100%" background=http://i1.bluelight.nu/p/10.gif bgColor=#e8e8f1>Killer took ecstasy in jail before dying, inquest told 12-09-2005 18:16</TD>
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    <TD>Killer took ecstasy in jail before dying, inquest told
    Press Association
    September 12, 2005

    A terrorist killer died after taking ecstasy inside Northern Ireland's top security Maghaberry Prison, an inquest was told today.

    Neil Sheridan, 28, collapsed in his cell in September last year, was taken Belfast City Hospital after suffering a fit and died soon after arrival from cardiac arrest.

    He was found by prison staff around 12.30am in his cell during night-time lockdown.

    He was naked, semi conscious and with a four centimetre long cut on his forehead. There was a large quantity of blood on the floor, said coroner John Leckey.

    A post mortem later showed he died of ecstasy poisoning and had a high level of the illegal drug in his body, the coroner told a jury of six women and three men.

    Sheridan, a member of the republican INLA, was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 for the murder in 1998 of a 52-year-old former policeman who was shot dead in front of his wife in the car park of an Armagh supermarket.

    The jury at the Belfast inquest heard Sheridan was in good spirits and hopeful of being released on licence within weeks after going before the sentence review commission days before his death.

    The inquest heard he suffered mental heath problems and had spent months in hospital in Liverpool before being returned to Maghaberry on October 2003.

    He was on medication to control his condition and his father, Martin Sheridan, said he had been "very surprised to learn the cause of death".

    Mr Sheridan said: "We had no knowledge at all he was taking ecstasy." He added: "We knew he had taken drugs before he went to hospital in Liverpool."

    When his son returned to Northern Ireland his condition was much improved, he said. "The change was unbelievable, he was a completely different person. His mental problems were managed successfully with medication."

    Three prisoners, also serving life sentences and who were in neighbouring cells, were taken to the inquest in handcuffs to give evidence. All three spoke of hearing thuds coming from Sheridan`s cell and alerted a prison warder when he made his rounds minutes later.

    Stephen McClean said the staff had "responded well" to the situation, but described as "rubbish" and "nonsense" the idea that the cause of death was ecstasy poisoning.

    "He didn`t take drugs. As far as I am aware he didn`t take ecstasy."

    However inmate Adrian Hayes said the response from prison staff had been too slow.

    As a security measure keys to cells were not kept on the prison wings at night but elsewhere with a senior officer, the inquest heard.

    Mr Hayes, criticising the time it took to get the cell door unlocked said: "They were too slow opening the door. I believe it could have been done much quicker."

    He too said he did not know Sheridan took drugs or how he could have got hold of them in prison.

    "As far as I was aware he only took prescription medication", he said.

    A nurse tended Sheridan in his cell, where she found him to be shaky and unstable, and called for a wheelchair to take him to the prison hospital. En route he had a fit and she called an ambulance to take him to hospital, the inquest heard.

    GP Dr RW Hyndman said he was called at home just before 1am and asked to attend a prisoner.

    He said by the time he arrived and got to the prison hospital Sheridan`s condition had deteriorated and the ambulance was already on its way.

    Dr Hyndman said when he saw the prisoner: "He was drowsy and unresponsive, he was sweating profusely and his pupils were dilated."

    He added: "I didn`t think the head wound was causing the symptoms he had."

    He said drugs could have been the cause of the symptoms but he couldn`t tell as Sheridan as he was unresponsive to simple questions such as whether he knew his own name.

    Dr Hyndman said as far as he was concerned the prison had done every thing it could and should have done and that Sheridan reached hospital as fast as was possible.

    One of the questions the jury will be asked to comment on is whether the prison could have acted more quickly or in a different way to the emergency.

    The inquest is expected to last for three days.

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