Sunday Life

Curb on searches at jail raise fears

By Alan Murray
17 October 2004

PRISON officers fear security has been put in jeopardy at Maghaberry, following a decision to suspend the routine body searching of officers and civilian staff arriving for work.

Worried jailers fear rogue staff, at the scandal-hit prison, will take advantage of the change to smuggle in weapons or drugs.

The governor ordered search teams to be stepped down, last Monday, to allow officers to get to their posts more quickly.

The move was in response to a work-to-rule protest by prison officers, who for the past fortnight have not been arriving for work until just five minutes before their shift is due to begin.

That has lead to the morning unlocking of prisoners to be delayed, creating a knock-on effect for court appearances and jail visits.

Before the Prison Officers' Association work-to-rule protest was imposed at all Ulster jails, most wardens arrived up to 30 minutes before the 8am shift change.

That gave them time to be thoroughly searched before preparing for duty.

But last Monday, the routine procedure of scanning arriving staff for metal objects and subjecting them to a thorough body search, was axed.

"This decision has compromised the security of the entire prison," one concerned officer told Sunday Life.

"An unscrupulous officer or civilian member of staff could now smuggle in weapons without being detected.

"A number of officers and staff at Maghaberry have been sacked already this year for inappropriate relations with female inmates, and for associations with paramilitary figures in their private lives."

Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, whose constituency includes Maghaberry, says he intends to make representations to the jail's governor over the decision.

"This is not the time for the prison service to be dropping their guard," he said.

"We've had murders and explosive traces detected in prisons here, including Maghaberry, and I'm astonished that this move was even contemplated, never mind implemented," the DUP MP said.

A Prison Officers' Association official, said that his members were concerned about the security implications of the decision to stand down search teams last Monday.

A spokesman for the prison service would only say: "Searching is carried out at an appropriate level, at the discretion of the governor."

The work-to-rule was imposed by the POA in protest over a pay rise not being linked to pension entitlements.

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