Prison hunger striker on point of death

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The Independent Online
A REMAND prisoner charged with murder is close to death after 52 days on hunger strike in Walton jail, Liverpool, according to his solicitor and family.

The last rites of the Roman Catholic Church will be given tomorrow to David Griffiths, 46, who was described as skeletal. He is not expected to recover from kidney and liver damage incurred since he stopped eating after a final meal of fish and chips on 11 November, the day after North Wales police held him on suspicion of killing a neighbour, Ken McAllister.

His solicitor, Ray Woodward, said: 'It is unlikely that even if he began eating today he would fully recover.'

The prison service has given no details of Mr Griffiths' hunger strike and even yesterday would not officially confirm it was happening. A spokesman would say only that Mr Griffiths' condition in the Walton hospital wing was 'stable, being monitored daily'. It is not Home Office policy to force-feed prisoners on hunger strike.

Mr Griffiths' lawyers will today consider asking a judge to move him from the hospital wing at Walton to specialist medical care.

'David is in a very poor condition,' his mother, Mary Griffiths, 79, said yesterday. 'We have arranged for his former head teacher, Fr Sean McCarthy, to give him his last rites, and we are making arrangements for his burial.'

The body of Mr McAllister, 42 and unemployed, was found with severe head injuries on 8 November in his first-floor flat in Colwyn Bay. Mr Griffiths, an unemployed former hotel proprietor who lived in a bedsit in a neighbouring house, was held in police cells at Colwyn Bay until charged with murder and remanded to Walton prison on 16 November. He has told relatives and lawyers that he is innocent, and wants an investigation of his treatment by the police. A friend and former colleague who visited Mr Griffiths yesterday said he was taking only mineral water. His weight had almost halved to about seven stone. 'At one point, he asked for Coca-Cola, and he was brought eight bottles, but he has refused to drink it. He thinks it would be giving in.

'David feels he has been abandoned. He is paranoid now, but his complaint is essentially that he was wrongly incarcerated and held by police in appalling conditions.

'I thought the conditions at the prison were good, and the people there, including the governor, first class. I told him that, if he makes himself strong, he could fight the case, but he says he will not take any food unless he knows his case will be investigated.

'It took me a long, long time to recognise him. He is skeletal, very emaciated and can walk only for very short distances.'

In the most recent cases of hunger strikers dying in British prisons - those of the republican prisoners in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland in 1981 - death ocurred after between 46 and 73 days.