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Ex-prison chief claims he was bullied over union role by Northern Ireland prison director

By Victoria Leonard

The former deputy governor of Northern Ireland's high security jail has claimed he was bullied and threatened during his posting at Maghaberry.

Ex-policeman Gary Alcock - described as once the most threatened man in the RUC - made the allegations on the first day of an industrial tribunal hearing yesterday.

Mr Alcock, also a former governor of Hydebank Wood Prison near Belfast, claims he was treated unfairly because he was also the chairman of the Prison Governors' Association (PGA).

He alleges that on December 11, 2014 he was threatened by Paul Cawkwell, then the Director of the NI Prison Service, during a meeting, and was later removed from his role as deputy governor of Maghaberry.

Yesterday the tribunal listened to a secret recording which Mr Alcock had made of the meeting without Mr Cawkwell's knowledge.

In it Mr Cawkwell referred to Mr Alcock's dual role as Maghaberry's deputy governor and PGA chair, and said he didn't know "that that is something that is sustainable in the long-term".

However, he was also heard to tell Mr Alcock that "no one is going to take your job away".

Mr Alcock responded saying that he was experiencing "the most horrendous personal and professional position for me to find myself in".

Later Mr Cawkwell stated in the recording: "You wear two hats - yours hasn't been a very good fit at this moment in time.

"If you can't separate Maghaberry business from PGA you cannot stay at Maghaberry. Carry on doing the business for the PGA but please separate your role as deputy governor." During two hours of cross-examination, a legal representative for the Department of Justice (DoJ) put it to Mr Alcock that he had been removed because of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate Report.

However, Mr Alcock replied that it was "because of my trade union activity". He said that afterwards he "was terrified, anxious, lying awake in a pool of sweat in bed".

"My wife told me I was shouting out names in my sleep. A proud man finds it difficult," he said. "I have never been the victim of such an amount of bullying, threats and discrimination in my entire working life."

The DoJ representative also referred to medical reports and to Mr Alcock's history of service in the RUC, during which he had experienced death threats, the loss of friends and had his name put on posters in west Belfast. At one stage he was the "most threatened man in the service", the DoJ representative stated. Counsel for the DoJ said that these were the reasons for Mr Alcock suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, rather than the recent allegations of detrimental treatment.

However, Mr Alcock replied that he had previously placed a "titanium lid" over all the incidents which had happened to him, and that being "threatened" by Mr Cawkwell had become a "defining moment". "My own service turned on me, it was the straw that broke the camel's back," he stated. The DoJ representative accused Mr Alcock of "making himself into a victim", but Mr Alcock replied that he was a "trade union officer who is being threatened into silence".

"The evidence is very clear that as a trade union official I was threatened with removal from office should I not accept a gagging order," he stated.

However, legal counsel for the DoJ pointed out that five other people on the senior management team at Maghaberry had also been removed as part of a "regime change".

Additionally, Mr Alcock's successor at Maghaberry, Pat Gray, was also a trade union member and the secretary of the PGA.

The DoJ representative accused Mr Alcock of being "underhanded, sneaky" and using "entrapment" in secretly recording his meeting with Mr Cawkwell. Mr Alcock responded: "As chairman of the PGA, if a trade union officer feels threatened or about to be threatened the law upholds protective measures being taken, one of which in the digital age is recording."

The tribunal continues.

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