A LOYALIST killer who died from a heart attack in prison was discovered dead in his cell just hours after seeing a doctor and telling a prison nurse his symptoms were improving, an inquest into his death has heard.
UDA man Harry Speers, who smoked 30 cigarettes a day, was discovered in his cell at Maghaberry by prison officers on February 18, 2008.
Speers, 49, and from Newtownabbey, was serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of father-of-two Trevor Lowry.
Glengormley man Mr Lowry, 49, died on March 31, 2001, two days after being lured into an alleyway at Harmin Drive in the town, where he was beaten to death.
Speers, a former Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) councillor, was sentenced to life imprisonment and told he must serve a minimum of 15 years.
Roy Craig, 20, Richmond Avenue, Glengormley, who was a schoolboy at the time of the attack, was also convicted of the murder and told that he would serve at least 11 years.
At an inquest into Speers’ death on Monday, Coroner Brian Sherrard told a jury that on the day of his death, the prisoner had an appointment at Belfast City Hospital with a gastroenterologist for an ongoing intestinal illness.
When he returned to prison, he complained of feeling unwell and of suffering pains in his chest.
Speers’ wife of 15 years and mother to his three children, Sharon, told the court that her husband had been suffering from ulcerative colitis, a gastric intestinal complaint, since his 30s.
At one stage he had been so ill that he was hospitalised for 14 weeks and lost five stone in weight.
Mrs Speers said her husband, who worked as a self-employed cleaning contractor, had looked “the picture of health” in October 2007, but just a few months later, at Christmas, had seemed “a really bad colour”.
Mrs Speers had visited her husband the day before his death and said he was complaining of chest pain and a pain down his arm - but when she raised her concerns, he dismissed them, saying that he was suffering from wind.
She said: “I don’t have a problem with the prison service, I just wish someone had lifted the phone and called for an ambulance when he talked about chest pain on the day he died.
“That way he may still be alive, or at least he would have died in an ambulance and not in a cell by himself. That will always be with me.”
The court heard from nursing officer Paul Rooney, who saw Speers at 4pm, around three hours before he was found dead in his cell.
Mr Rooney said Speers was complaining of chest pain and was pale and a little clammy.
However, during the examination, Speers told him the pain was fading and attributed his symptoms to an iron tablet he was taking.
The nursing officer said that given Speers’ history of colitis, he believed he was having a flare-up of this illness and ruled out a coronary complaint. He said Speers also failed to tell him that his twin brother had died of a heart attack when he asked if there was any history of heart disease.
Mrs Speers, who was given the opportunity to ask questions of the nurse, said: “My husband knew about his brother. I don’t know why he wouldn’t have told you that.”
Mr Rooney said it was not unusual for patients to leave out portions of their family history during examination.
Also speaking at the inquest, Assistant State Pathologist for Northern Ireland Dr Peter Ingram confirmed the causes of Speers’ death as myocardial necrosis, coronary thrombosis and coronary atheroma.
He told the inquest all three main arteries leading to Speers’ heart were narrowed due to fatty deposits, two of them to the point of a pinhole.
The inquest continues.