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David Ford rejects Maghaberry Prison 'scapegoat' claims

Published 09/11/2015

(l to r) Northern Ireland Prison Service director general Sue McAlister, Justice Minister David Ford and Phil Wragg, governor of Maghaberry Prison
(l to r) Northern Ireland Prison Service director general Sue McAlister, Justice Minister David Ford and Phil Wragg, governor of Maghaberry Prison

David Ford has been accused of scapegoating senior managers over a damning report into Maghaberry Prison.

A litany of failures at the high-security jail in Lisburn was revealed by a highly-critical report published last week.

A chief inspector in England said it was the most dangerous prison he had ever seen.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots asked the Justice Minister: "Do you accept that the leadership team, which has been a revolving door of Englishmen coming over to run the prisons, has been totally detached from the prison itself and it is wholly disingenuous of you to scapegoat two people who were in position for less than a year for this damning report on Maghaberry Prison?"

Mr Ford told Stormont Assembly members he did not appoint civil servants.

"The leadership team I see is not detached, the leadership I see being given of the prison service by Phil Wragg (Maghaberry governor) and his senior colleagues is absolutely attached to what is going on in the prison.

"There is no issue of scapegoating, the issue is of reflecting the appropriate need to ensure that leadership was provided to deal with the problems at Maghaberry which was not being provided.

"That is why we have seen an improvement that I have already highlighted in a number of areas like sickness absence."

Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, was commissioned to assist the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland inspection team. He said Maghaberry was the most dangerous prison he had ever seen.

He found that the prison would struggle to meet UN minimum standards for prisons worldwide and said if the situation was not addressed a major risk of "serious disorder or loss of life" would remain.

Mr Hardwick said conditions were akin to those of a Dickensian Victorian jail.

Maghaberry houses almost 1,000 prisoners, including about 50 with loyalist and republican paramilitary affiliations who are held in separated accommodation.

Dissident republicans have issued death threats against prison staff in recent years and in 2012 long-serving officer David Black was shot dead by dissidents as he drove to work.

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