Belfast Telegraph

A deadly arsenal in Northern Ireland jails

100 lethal weapons recovered by warders in last three years

By Adrian Rutherford

Potentially deadly weapons including knives, hammers and garrottes have been seized in Northern Ireland’s prisons.

Warders found at least 100 dangerous items in the last three years.

Sixty-eight were found at the maximum-security Maghaberry Prison, which holds the province’s most notorious criminals.

It has prompted warnings that it is only a matter of time before a prison officer was killed or seriously injured.

Finlay Spratt, who heads the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “These weapons are clearly there to do damage.

“Prisons are dangerous places and staff are becoming more and more stretched.

“Someone could quite easily end up getting killed.

“It is going to end up in a disastrous situation.”

Details of the weapons found in our prisons were released after an Assembly question from TUV leader Jim Allister.

According to Justice Minister David Ford, 100 weapons had been found in jails since October 2011. Many were conventional weapons such as knives, blades and even a metal hammer.

A garrotte was also found in the possession of one inmate at Maghaberry, while a metal pipe and tourniquet — a constricting bandage-type item that could be used to strangle someone — were found in another incident.

In other cases prisoners used everyday items to create makeshift weapons.

One prisoner at Hydebank Young Offenders’ Centre placed a bar of soap inside a sock, while another was found with specially sharpened cutlery.

Mr Spratt said it added to an already dangerous situation for staff.

“Our prison officers face a very difficult and dangerous job,” he added.

“They have to contend with this against a backdrop of cuts, which has left two staff in charge of 50 inmates.

“In Hydebank Young Offenders’ Centre there is one officer in charge of 25 — that is an impossible position.

“Recently an officer there was hit over the head, dragged into a cell and left there, and wasn’t discovered until a fire officer checking alarms saw him.” More than two-thirds of the weapons were found at Maghaberry, which houses dangerous inmates such as double-killer Colin Howell, who was jailed for 21 years for murdering his wife Lesley and Trevor Buchanan, the husband of his lover Hazel Stewart.

Loyalist killer Michael Stone, who carried out the 1988 Milltown Cemetery attack, and Trevor Hamilton, jailed for 30 years for murdering pensioner Attracta Harron, are also held at the top security facility.

Another 29 weapons were seized at Magilligan Prison, with three discovered at Hydebank.

Mr Allister, who obtained the details, described the situation as alarming.

“This is extremely concerning in terms of the type and range of weaponry, and the evil ingenuity which has gone into creating them, and also the sheer quantity,” he said.

“It underscores the difficult task facing our prison officers.”

Factfile

Examples of types of weapons discovered:

Maghaberry, January 2012: Metal pipe and tourniquet

Magilligan, August 2012:

Tin can in a sock and brush shaft

Hydebank, November 2012: Sock with soap inside

Maghaberry, March 2013: Four blades

Maghaberry, March 2014: Sharpened cutlery

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