Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

British Army wanted to open fire on unarmed jail escapees

The British Army wanted to change the law to allow soldiers to open fire on unarmed prisoners trying to escape from the Maze to be a more effective deterrent in the late 1970s, it has emerged.

A confidential memo written by Major Richard Turner to the NIO revealed they had concerns that current legislation was preventing soldiers from being an “efficient deterrent” to attempted prison breakouts.

Specifically, they were concerned that the Provisional IRA were “well aware” of the Army ‘Yellow Card’ which governed when and where British soldiers could open fire.

Another issue of security which sparked concern at the Maze in the late 1970s was the problem of smuggling explosives into the prison. Between July 2, 1977 and August 18, 1977, 43 sticks of gelignite, four detonators and three fuses were found in cells of IRA prisoners.

An explosion took place in the landing of the prison when 2oz of explosive was activated. After searches, explosives were found concealed in butter.

Secret documents also showed that prisoners in the Maze used makeshift tools and impersonated priests in bids to escape.

Confidential records show that officials discovered an entrance to a tunnel 18x18ins in the concrete floor of a cubicle in a hut holding PIRA prisoners.

During a search an 18ft sectional ladder roughly made from basketball stands was discovered. It was thought prisoners would have used the tunnel to clear three compound fences and then to use the sectional ladder to scale a 17ft concrete wall.

Meanwhile, the confidential records also showed concern at the safety of priests who visit the prison. This emerged after one prisoner impersonated a Canadian priest and was able to escape.

A Father Rainey, who was visiting the Maze to conduct Mass, was “illegally detained” by the prisoners. Officials said the escape was possible because of the close physical resemblance between the prisoner and Fr Rainey.

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