Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Maghaberry boss claims top prison official misled MLAs on Justice Committee

By Victoria Leonard

A former Director of the Northern Ireland Prison Service has been accused of "misleading" Stormont's Justice Committee and "prostituting himself to the media" in an industrial tribunal.

The claims about Paul Cawkwell emerged during an industrial tribunal brought by the former Deputy Governor of Maghaberry Prison, Gary Alcock, against the Department of Justice.

Mr Alcock is alleging that he was treated unfairly because he was also the Chairman of the Prison Governors' Association (PGA), subjected to "threatening" behaviour by Mr Cawkwell, and subsequently removed from his Maghaberry post.

On the first day of the case, it emerged that Mr Alcock had secretly recorded a meeting between himself and Mr Cawkwell on December 11, during which he claims he was threatened by Mr Alcock because of his trade union role.

On the second day of the hearing yesterday, Mr Alcock said the meeting he had secretly recorded had been "one of the most shocking I have had in my service."

Mr Alcock referred to testimony which Mr Cawkwell gave to the Justice Committee on November 18, 2014, regarding the closure of a security grille at Maghaberry jail, which he claimed had been referred to on the secret recording but was not heard in court.

Mr Alcock claimed: "The Director of Operations admitted they were seeking to mislead the Justice Committee in relation to Roe 4 (a landing in a wing of Maghaberry). He is admitting in the transcript to prostituting himself to the media."

Regarding the decision to close a security grille on a landing in Maghaberry, Mr Alcock said that this decision was referred to the then-Director General of the Prison Service, Sue McAllister.

He denied a suggestion by counsel for the Department of Justice that it had been his decision and not Mrs McAllister's.

"It was a decision far above me given the political and perhaps the community implications," he said.

Mr Alcock alleges that an "unambiguous" threat was made to him by Mr Cawkwell in this meeting.

He said: "I refer to the transcript: 'If you can't separate Maghaberry business from your PGA role you cannot stay at Maghaberry.' That to me is a very clear threat: either be quiet on Maghaberry issues or you're moving on."

When counsel for the DOJ put it to Mr Alcock that there was "tension" between the two roles, Mr Alcock replied that he didn't believe there should be "friction, threats or tension between the two."

Mr Alcock then claimed that he was "banished from the Prison Service" and moved to an office in Belfast City Centre "to ensure I was silenced and excluded from those who it was my right as a trade union representative to represent".

Mr Alcock claimed that trade union members' access to him as an official was "significantly restricted and intentionally so".

A DOJ representative put it to Mr Alcock that secretly taping the meeting was a "breach of trust" and that he was "holding the recording as a threat", which he denied.

Mr Alcock said it was a "protective measure by a senior trade union official who is being bullied, who had been threatened."

Counsel for the DOJ then referred to a Criminal Justice Inspectorate report on Maghaberry, describing it as "damning."

He said that the entire senior management team at Maghaberry, bar one person, had been removed because of the CJI report rather than because of union membership.

Mr Alcock contended that other members of the management team had been moved within the Prison Service, while he was "removed from the Prison Service".

He said he had turned down alternative roles offered to him by the DOJ because he felt it was an attempt to have him "voluntarily remove myself from the Prison Service and my role in the PGA".

Under cross-examination, Counsel for Mr Alcock asked Mr Cawkwell about the evidence he had given to Stormont's Justice Committee regarding the locking of the security grille at Maghaberry.

Mr Cawkwell said he had been "absolutely torn" when giving evidence about the closure of the grille, as the drive within the Prison Service to "normalise the relationships in dissident republican sections" meant getting the grilles unlocked.

He stated: "If I had said anything to the Justice Committee about this it would have been selling out the Deputy Governor at that time.

"I knew Maghaberry was brittle, the staff were brittle."

Mr Cawkwell said his testimony was also based on keeping "the balance between the perceived power of the prisoners" and that of the staff.

He said he had been "very surprised" at the decision to close the grille, but that "I understood why once it was taken so I supported it".

Counsel for Mr Alcock suggested Mr Cawkwell had given "false testimony" to the Justice Committee, but he denied this.

"The decision had been made and if I was looking at the after effects we had got away with it but it was not a risk I would have taken," he replied.

"The opinion I gave to the Justice Committee was after the decision had been taken and I was able to evaluate the reaction in person regarding the staff and prison and it seems we got away with it.

"There are no right or wrong decisions in prison.

"Was it a decision I would have taken? No."

Counsel for Mr Alcock said Mr Cawkwell was "prepared to say whatever is expedient and give false testimony," which he denied.

The tribunal continues.

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