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State Sanctioned Suicide: The Whole Hog's 2004
It was the year Annie Kelly posthumously made her mark on the Northern Prison system and Janet Jackson caused uproar with her mammary moment at the Super Bowl. All in all, 2004 was a weird but not always wonderful 12 months.
Eamonn McCann, 21 Dec 2004
Person of the Year was Annie Kelly (deceased). Annie hanged herself in her cell in Maghaberry Prison in September 2002. But it was in 2004 that she made her mark, when a coroner’s jury in Belfast decided unanimously that she shouldn’t be recorded as having died by her own hand but that she’d perished at the hands of the prison authorities.
Made her mark, that is, with campaigners for children’s rights, prison reform and human decency. Not with mainstream media. The verdict attracted scant attention in the North, none at all that I’m aware of in the South.
Annie once had no problem gaining publicity. An Irish tabloid had headlined her as, “Ulster’s most violent woman”. Actually, hardly any of her 230 convictions had involved violence.
From her earliest days, Annie, from a family of 10 on the Ballycolman Estate, Strabane, had known the evils of poverty, alcohol and abuse. She was taken into care straight from infants’ school. Returned home at 11, she made her debut as a defendant at 12. She’d taken a battering from the day she’d seen light and was fiercely resolved she wouldn’t lie down.
Annie was first put into Maghaberry at 15, in contradiction of international conventions against children in adult prisons. The overwhelmingly male warders had mostly transferred from handling paramilitaries.
She spent two four-month stints in Maghaberry in 2000; was back in by mid-January the following year; out in February; in again from April to early October; back in late October; out in November; back in February 2002; dead by September.
Only a slip of a girl, prison officers said there was no controlling her. She scanted in her cell like a skylark in a cage.
One prison officer told of finding her, some days before her death, a ligature around her neck, unconscious, face blue, froth bubbling at her lips, the ligature so tight he had difficulty inserting an implement to cut her free before managing to resuscitate her. There was no medical help at hand.
No change was ordered in her regime as a result.
She was in an “anti-vandal” punishment cell, designed so all she could damage was herself. She’d been provided with a blanket she could tear strips off, and a window with a grill at a suitable height.
Following the inquest, coroner John Lecky wrote to Secretary of State Paul Murphy: “Ann Frances Kelly had a long and well-known history of self-harm and mock suicides...As Secretary of State you are in a position to ensure that action is taken to prevent...the recurrence of similar fatalities. I understand that Ann was not a unique prisoner and that there are other young offenders at risk in a similar manner to her.”
Will anybody pay heed?
Lecky had written to the Secretary of State along eerily similar lines after his 1999 inquest into the death of Janet Holmes, found hanged in her cell at Maghaberry.
An inquest is pending on another woman who died since Annie was found hanged in her cell at the prison.
The form suggests there’ll be more. When you read the single-para. story, pause, and remember Annie Kelly. She was 19.
Movie of the Year was Saving Private Ryan, on account of being dropped from US TV schedules in 66 cities, including Boston, Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore, on Veterans’ Weekend. It was thought too violent for viewing during the slaughter in Fallujah.
Appropriate enough in a year which began with Mick Jagger simpering in thanks for being made into a Sir and ended with Bono slathering praise on the Second Butcher of Fallujah. Can’t have popular culture presenting mass murder in a negative light.
Susan Black would have been in the running for Quote of the Year, if we’d entertained the category, with her description of Janet Jackson’s mammary moment at the Super Bowl in February: “A lovely, well-shaped, obviously real, stylishly pierced, middle-aged breast of colour. What’s not to like?”
Michael Powell was “outraged.” He’d been gathered with his family around the boob tube to watch the Bowl when Ms. Jackson “tainted” the occasion with her “classless, crass and deplorable stunt.”
Powell is the Bush-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. As to whether his appointment was prompted by his dad, Colin, being a parrot for the First Butcher of Fallujah, we can but speculate.
What’s fact is that Powell’s “outrage” sparked such brouhaha over JJ’s breast that both CBS and the singer felt moved abjectly to apologise.
Nine months later, it was Powell who led the pack in demanding that “Private Ryan” be kept under wraps until the GIs had run out of Muslim civilians to massacre.
Powell the Elder, back in February 2003, had a curtain placed over a tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica at the entrance to the Security Council chamber lest its meticulous anti-war howl compromise the lies he’d come to tell to facilitate crimes against humanity.
High art, low art. Rock stars and crude louts. It’s been so difficult to distinguish in 2004.