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Beleaguered prison service loses top man

The troubled Northern Ireland Prison Service has been plunged into further uncertainty following the announcement of the resignation of director general Robin Masefield.

Mr Masefield announced yesterday that he intends to step down from his post before the end of the year.

His decision to go follows a string of controversies and damning reports about the high security Maghaberry Prison, which is still without a permanent governor.

Mr Masefield said he had originally signed up for five years from his appointment in December 2004, but was pleased to stay on to cover the transition at devolution.

Mr Masefield’s departure comes six months after the former governor of Maghaberry, Steve Rodford, left his post when his personal details were discovered in the cell of a dissident republican inmate. He had been in the job for just five months.

The Prison Service still has to advertise for a replacement governor, however it announced earlier this month that it will run open competitions “as soon as practicable, later this year”, for the post of governor and deputy governor.

Management within the Prison Service has been heavily criticised in a series of reports by inspectors.

Last year a report found “inconsistent assessment and monitoring of prisoners at risk”. The report was ordered after the death of Colin Bell, a vulnerable prisoner who took his own life in his cell in

August 2008. Bell had been on suicide watch but officers who were meant to have been monitoring him were found to be sleeping on makeshift beds in their station.

Another report last year concluded that Maghaberry was “one of the worst jails in the UK”.

Relations between the Prison Officers’ Association and management have also been very volatile over the past few years. Earlier this year the POA issued a declaration of no confidence in Mr Masefield and his management team. Management and the POA recently reached a truce, however relations remain delicate.

Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe yesterday paid tribute to Mr Masefield. She said he had shown an “incredibly high level of personal commitment and dedication” over the past five years.

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