Personal details of a number of prison officers have been posted on internet sites by dissident republicans.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned that sensitive, very detailed information about eight officers was published online in recent days in a clear attempt at intimidation. It is understood the information includes home addresses and car registrations.
Director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Robin Masefield has told the Justice Committee at Stormont that the security threat against the Prison Service remains “substantial”. An attack is a strong possibility.
While the threat against most individuals remains “moderate” — that an attack is possible but not likely — there is a very real and serious threat against a small number of staff. There are fears the numbers under threat could increase as dissident republicans step up intelligence gathering.
A senior prison source said: “It could get much much worse. The details of some staff have been posted on the internet. It is disturbing and a clear attempt to intimidate.”
But one prison officer said: “Some staff are naturally pretty worried by the threat but a large number of staff members worked for the Prison Service when the terrorist threat was much greater, so it is not really new for them.”
Last year Maghaberry Prison governor Steve Rodford left his job after just five months and returned to England after his home address and car registration details were found in the cell of a dissident republican inmate.
The Prison Service has taken a number of actions to help protect staff from the terrorist threat, including providing more at risk officers with body armour.
Special mirrors are also being provided to staff to check under their cars for booby trap bombs.
Justice Committee member David McNarry said he was very concerned about the safety of prison officers and also about how the threat could affect the overall running of the Prison Service.
“The threat against them may not be quite as high as the threat against police officers, but it is still a very real and serious threat. The committee wants to be reassured that members of the Prison Service are being protected and to be honest, I am not totally reassured,” he said.
Mr McNarry added: “We will be wanting to probe the Prison Service further to ensure these men and women are well protected. We will also need to be reassured that the dissident threat is not going to have a detrimental effect on the prison regime.”
Earlier this week Mr Masefield told the Justice Committee: “We have a duty of care to our staff and prisoners and are very conscious of the increasing threat level and increased number of warnings.”