Terrorists, murderers and rapists are to have their say on how Maghaberry Prison is run, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
From tomorrow representatives nominated by the province’s paramilitary and criminal fraternities are scheduled to sit down with senior prison officers and outline how they think the top security jail should be administered and air any grievances.
The Prison Service confirmed that the Prisoner Forum was already up and running but was unable to indicate how many inmates will be involved in the talks.
The forum was recommended by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons and is one of the changes departing boss Steve Rodford put in train before his shock resignation last week.
Warders are livid at the creation of what they call the “prisoners’ parliament” at Maghaberry, which houses notorious killers such as Michael Stone and Trevor Hamilton.
Officers say the plan has the potential to put officers’ lives at greater risk.
“It’s like we’re moving towards the lunatics have taken over the asylum situation now, or the equivalent of the burglar being caught by the police and then being asked to give a report on how effectively the police carried out their investigation. It’s barmy”, one warder said yesterday.
Reports inside the jail suggest that one prisoner per landing has been nominated, meaning that some principal officers will sit down with six criminals in each of four houses when the meetings get under way. In the two units that house paramilitary prisoners, which each have four landings, principal officers will discuss conditions with four convicted terrorists in each house.
The Prison Service also confirmed yesterday that a review of the use of electronic grilles in Maghaberry is also being carried out. The grilles can be closed in seconds from the jail’s control room to confine prisoners to corridors and stop movement if serious trouble breaks out.
Prison officers fear that the dismantling of the system of grilles will leave the prison more vulnerable to a takeover of its facilities by dissident republicans.
“If these are dismantled then prisoners could run through many areas in a disturbance situation with no way of stopping them except through physical confrontation,” one officer said.
It is also being reported inside the jail that orders have been issued to the prison’s riot squad — known among staff as the immediate reaction force — not to wear helmets, visors or neck protectors during any confrontational incidents in the future because it
may intimidate prisoners. However, a spokesman for the Prison Service said the equipment remained available at the jail and could be used when necessary.
Prison officers say that without the helmets and visors, officers could be scalded by water heavily mixed with sugar that can be heated in microwaves on landings in accommodation units.
It’s understood that Mr Rodford visited Maghaberry Prison yesterday and collected some personal belongings and documents.
A Prison Service spokesman said it wasn’t possible to say when he would leave Northern Ireland to return to England because of his leave and holiday entitlements.
Mr Rodford’s details were found in the cell of a Continuity IRA prisoner during a search in September. It’s suspected that the governor, who was reportedly on a £150,000 annual contract, was tailed from a Co Down restaurant to the residence provided for him in Crawfordsburn.
The PSNI was alerted and launched an investigation after his car registration and address were found in a handwritten note concealed inside a toothpaste tube. One prisoner was arrested over the discovery.
Other reports suggested that details of telephone numbers and an address in England were contained in the handwritten note, but this has not been confirmed.
Mr Rodford’s wife is understood to have refused to return to Northern Ireland after she learned that details of the Crawfordsburn address had become known to republican terrorists.
Mr Rodford moved to a hotel in Belfast along with some members of his management team following the incident in September.