Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Patten-style prison reform rejected

Justice Minister David Ford

Northern Ireland's Justice Minister David Ford has ruled out a sweeping Patten-style commission to reform prisons.

An inquiry into the murder of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright inside the Maze Prison in 1997 found serious failings.

It recommended measures similar to the way policing was overhauled following the report by Chris Patten in the Nineties. Mr Ford said “radical change” was possible but such a process would be too costly.

“Radical change of the kind which Patten introduced to the police service, which was extremely expensive, is almost certainly not possible,” he told the BBC.

The report published on Tuesday found there had been negligence on the part of the Northern Ireland Prison Service which led to the murder of the LVF leader by republican prisoners. Its authors suggested a Patten-style commission could also pave the way for fresh consideration of how its industrial relations are handled.

Wright’s family believe he was a victim of collusion between prison authorities, the security services and police. But the report said his murder happened because of negligence, not intention.

The panel found that the decision to allocate Billy Wright and the LVF faction to H Block 6 in April 1997 alongside the INLA prisoners was “a wrongful act that directly facilitated his murder”.

There was a serious failure on the part of the prison service and its chief executive at the time, Alan Shannon, to deal with management issues at the prison, the report said. Mr Shannon is now the most senior civil servant in the Stormont Department for Employment and Learning.

The Wright report criticised Mr Shannon’s decision to give the former Maze prison governor Martin Mogg a dual role as governor of the Maze and Operations Director at the Northern Ireland Prison Service for “severely weakening” the capacity of the |operational directorate of the service.

Following calls for Mr Shannon's resignation, Employment Secretary Sir Reg Empey said: “He has, and always has had, my full support and total backing.”

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