Belfast Telegraph

£1m damage to Maghaberry jail in just 18 months

By Deborah McAleese

Thirty republican inmates at Maghaberry jail are planning to intensify protests which have already caused more than £1m worth of damage to the prison.

Justice committee chairman Paul Givan has warned that the jail is “being held to ransom” by the prisoners who, for more than 18 months, have been involved in protest tactics inside the jail.

They claim that conditions within Maghaberry are “inhumane” and are demanding an end to full-body searching of prisoners at the separated unit Roe House, where they are housed.

The Prison Service recently spent £35,000 on body scanners to remove the need for full body searches within the prison as part of an agreement reached with the inmates in August that temporarily halted the protests. However, the authorities have insisted that there is still a need for full body searches on entering and exiting the separated unit.

The inmates say this breaches the August agreement. They have claimed that since the agreement strip-searches have been “significantly increased” and their movement has been “severely restricted”.

No end is in sight to the stand-off as neither the protesters nor prison chiefs are prepared to back down.

It is feared that frustrations could once again spill over into violence. From April last year the protesters caused more than £1m worth of damage to cells, landings and a recreation room.

One of the protesters, Colin Duffy — who is currently on trial accused of murdering two soldiers outside Massereene Army barracks — has been charged with criminal damage caused during one of the protests.

He has been granted legal aid to contest the criminal damage allegations.

It is not just protests inside the prison that are costing the taxpayer money.

Two dissident republican protests held outside the jail last month by supporters of the prisoners cost the police and Prison Service almost £250,000.

Last week dissident republicans again targeted Alliance Party headquarters in Belfast, this time smearing the windows, door and buzzer with dog excrement.

Mr Givan said the situation will have to be brought to a head by the prison authorities and Justice Minister David Ford.

“There will soon come a point when enough has to be enough.

“The Prison Service and the Justice Minister will have to decide when to make a move to bring this to an end,” said the DUP MLA.

He added: “It is a highly sensitive situation but it cannot continue for much longer.

“It is costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, not to mention how horrible a situation it is for the officers working in Roe House.”

It is understood that one prison officer was forced to take early retirement after suffering from psychological problems brought on by the stress of working within the unit.

Factfile

Total cost of the damage caused by republican separated |prisoners in Maghaberry jail from April 2010: £1,007,000

Breakdown of cost:

  • Damage to recreation room on April 4, 2010: £17,000
  • Cell damage on May 6, 2010: £13,500
  • Cleaning cost of protest: £187,153
  • Refurbishment of landings August 2010: £141,317
  • Additional staffing costs in 2010: £147,710
  • Cell damage on May 6, 2011: £8,800
  • Cell damage on June 30, 2011: £5,600
  • Cell damage on July 1, 2011: £6,400
  • Fire damage to recreation room on July 1, 2011: £199,100
  • Cleaning cost in 2011: £157,005
  • Additional staffing costs in 2011: £123,415


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