Belfast Telegraph

Former jail chief denies governor was fall guy for report

By Victoria Leonard

The former director general of Northern Ireland's Prison Service has denied "throwing anyone under a bus" after removing Maghaberry's former senior leadership team from their posts in the wake of a damning inspection.

Sue McAllister's response to the 2015 Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) report was examined in an industrial tribunal brought by former deputy governor Gary Alcock against the Department of Justice.

Mr Alcock (below) alleges he was treated unfairly because he was also the chairman of the Prison Governors' Association (PGA), subjected to "threatening" behaviour by a former director of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) Paul Cawkwell, and subsequently removed from his Maghaberry post.

On Tuesday it emerged that Mr Alcock had secretly recorded a meeting between himself and Mr Cawkwell in which he claims he was threatened due to his trade union role.

Yesterday Mrs McAllister was questioned over concerns raised in a letter from Mr Alcock on behalf of PGA members that there was an "absence of tangible support outside Maghaberry Prison" for staff suffering "intimidation and threats" at the jail.

Counsel for Mr Alcock suggested that the letter would have been "particularly unwelcome" for Mrs McAllister as she had "given evidence to the justice committee about threats and moving forward in a positive way, and that there weren't current threats".

Mrs McAllister denied this, but said she had found the letter "disappointing and surprising" as NIPS HQ had been "working very hard with other members, police and other intelligence agencies to come up with actions which we would take".

Counsel for Mr Alcock then suggested that Mrs McAllister had decided that he "didn't fit in".

Mrs McAllister said she had been tasked with delivering a "reform programme" at NIPS. She said there had previously been an emphasis on "security rather than rehabilitation and it was difficult sometimes to see how we could fit people into the right jobs, people who didn't have the skill set needed or see the need for development".

"We had got to the point where it was increasingly difficult to see how we could take the Prison Service forward with individuals like Gary in a senior role," she said.

Mr Alcock's counsel put it to Mrs McAllister that there was no evidence she had acted on these concerns, and that Mr Alcock had received a positive appraisal from his then boss, which human resources didn't challenge.

Mrs McAllister said: "If you said to me: 'If I had my time over again would I do things differently and manage performance in a different way'. Perhaps I would, I'm not perfect."

Mrs McAllister said it was "beyond any doubt" that "I and my team didn't throw anyone under a bus" over the CJI report.

"We had a job to do and a prison service to reform," she stated. "The NOMS (national offender management service) report was always clear there would be people who could not or would not make this journey with us."

Mrs McAllister said she had been a PGA member and was "very clear about the value of unions and wouldn't seek to prevent a union official doing their job". She said there had been a "business justification" for moving Mr Alcock outside the Prison Service, and denied his "card was marked" due to his PGA role.

A decision on the case is expected in the coming weeks.

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