::: u.tv :::

MONDAY 19/01/2004 18:02:03
Loyalist inmates stage hunger strike

Two loyalists prisoners in Northern Ireland's troubled Maghaberry Prison have launched a hunger strike, it was claimed tonight.

By:Press Association

They are protesting about conditions in the jail and in support of their demands for total segregation from republicans, said Tommy Kirkham, a spokesman for the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) which gives political advice to the Ulster Defence Association.

A third inmate will join the hunger strike tomorrow and others on successive days, he said.

The Northern Ireland Prison Service said it was not yet regarded as a hunger strike.

``A couple of blokes have refused a couple of meals - we don`t count it as a hunger strike until they have refused for over 24 hours,`` he said.

The claimed action followed extensive trouble in the prison last week when loyalists went on the rampage causing hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage and cutting heating and electricity supplies.

Mr Kirkham complained on behalf of the prisoners: ``Since last week they have been given a mattress on the floor, they have no heat, no light, they have absolutely nothing``.

He claimed things came to a head today when food was thrown at inmates. ``They feel they are being treated like dogs kept in some sort of pound.``

He said he knew the men who had started the fast - one from north Belfast and the other from south east Antrim - and they were resolute in their determination to continue to refuse food.

He appealed for either someone from the UPRG or from the churches to be allowed in to talk directly to the prisoners.

The Prison Service is putting the finishing touches to a £7 million refurbishment scheme which will enable them next month to enact the recommendation of a report last year saying the 35 loyalist and 25 republican inmates should be held separately as a security measure.

The Government has insisted it will not mean a return to the segregation which used to operate in the Maze Prison where paramilitary inmates ran their own sections of the jail.

Meanwhile, as tensions remained high army bomb disposal experts defused a pipe bomb outside the Co Down home of a Maghaberry prison officer.

Several homes in the village of Killyleagh were evacuated while the bomb was made safe after being found by the warders` wife.

It was the latest in a series of attacks on prison officers` homes which is linked to the dispute in the jail.

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, predicted the violence against his members by loyalist paramilitaries would escalate.

``These people want complete control in the prison and they will stop at nothing to get it.

``We are the only people who stand between them and that, and that is why the violence will continue,`` he said.

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