Tensions have risen steadily inside Maghaberry Prison because of the intensive search being carried out for explosives, weapons, drugs and other contraband which look set to continue for at least another day.
Inmates began kicking and banging cell doors from early yesterday as day two of the biggest prison search in Northern Ireland for over a decade resumed.
The lockdown was ordered on Wednesday by the prison's new governor Steve Rodford, who was appointed earlier this year after a major controversy was sparked by the suicide of an inmate who was supposed to be under observation.
Officers working inside the jail yesterday reported threats from furious inmates some of whom face being locked up continuously for 72 hours as the search in the prison continues.
Some prisoners were due to be released from their cells this morning to attend visits which — the Prison Service announced last night — would be resumed over the weekend. In a brief statement the prison authorities said that “all visits will resume. Anyone scheduled to visit the prison Saturday or Sunday should attend as normal”.
The statement confirmed that the “ongoing search at Maghaberry Prison will continue over the weekend” and said that all visits forfeited on Thursday and Friday would be re-scheduled.
However, the prison will be able to cope with no more than 200 visits in one day. This means that by 8pm today over 600 prisoners will have spent three full days locked in their cells.
Prison officers serving at the jail are concerned at the reaction they will face from inmates today as cells are unlocked for the first time since Wednesday evening.
Reports from inside the top security jail said threats were shouted to warders, particularly from cells occupied by loyalists, as a huge team of prison officers and specialist search units from the PSNI continued the inch by inch examination of the top security jail.
One source said last night: “Tensions rose steadily throughout the day (Friday) with cell doors being kicked and objects used to bang the doors and create a really bad atmosphere.
“Most of the threats came from loyalists who seem to be angry that they’re being penalised in a search for explosives which they didn’t bring into the prison. But the ordinary criminal fraternity inside the jail is also up in arms and they’re joining in the general unrest in the residential houses. It’s getting fairly tense”.
Speaking earlier this week Governor Rodford would not be drawn on what his officers were searching for but said: “It is normal for searches to be undertaken within the prison and there are occasions when they will, unfortunately, as in this instance, lead to restrictions in the regime offered to prisoners. The safety and security of prisons are of paramount importance and this does require searches, both localised and extensive, to be carried out.”