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Foster disgusted by dissidents who celebrated killing

By Deborah McAleese

Published 17/03/2016

Saddened: Arlene Foster
Saddened: Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster has said she was "sickened" by reports that dissident republicans celebrated the death of a prison officer.

Yesterday, Prison Service colleagues of Adrian Ismay welcomed the PSNI's decision to treat the warder's death as murder.

Mr Ismay died of a heart attack on Tuesday, less than two weeks after he was injured in a terrorist bomb attack.

Prison Service boss Sue McAllister said yesterday that she would investigate reports that some prisoners at the high security Maghaberry jail celebrated Mr Ismay's death by smoking cigars in the yard.

And last night, Mrs Foster described them as "barbarians".

"We can't allow a small group of dissident republicans to drag Northern Ireland backwards. I was sickened by reports of celebrations in the prison when news of Adrian Ismay's death filtered through," she said.

"I know Northern Ireland has divisions but no one with an ounce of humanity would have any truck with the barbarians who cheered at news of Adrian's death."

Detectives yesterday upgraded their investigation from attempted murder to murder after a post-mortem examination found that the 52-year-old father-of-three's death was a "direct result" of the injuries he sustained when a booby-trap bomb exploded under his van on Friday, March 4.

Chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA) Finlay Spratt said Mr Ismay's colleagues would have been angry had the police probe not been upgraded.

"This was the right decision. Prison officers would have found it difficult to accept that Adrian's death had not been as a result of the bomb attack. There would have been a lot of anger and annoyance," Mr Spratt said.

He added that the mood within the Prison Service at the moment was "sombre", with many very concerned about their personal safety.

"Prison officers have always been under threat, but what happened to Adrian just brings it home to everyone. There is no safe place in Northern Ireland for a prison officer," he said.

PSNI widow Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was shot dead by dissident republicans seven years ago, on March 9, 2009, said last night that Mr Ismay's death has brought the horror of that day flooding back.

"Because this all happened around the same time as Stephen's anniversary it has hit me hard all over again. I had hoped that no other family would go through what happened to our family, but unfortunately they have. It is just disgusting," she said.

"I am utterly disgusted that a father and a husband has been taken away from another family. That loss doesn't go away. You learn how to live with it and attempt to move on, but it is very difficult."

The senior investigating officer in the murder case, Detective Chief Inspector Richard Campbell, said that yesterday was "yet another difficult day for the Ismay family, his friends and colleagues as they struggle to come to terms with the events of the past 12 days".

The only man charged so far in connection with the attack is set to be recharged with murder.

Police and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) are liaising over how to proceed with the case against Dunmurry man Christopher Robinson (45) who last week was charged with attempted murder and causing an explosion with intent to endanger life.

The PPS said: "We have been liaising with the PSNI as part of its investigation into the death of Adrian Ismay and are aware this is now being treated as a murder enquiry.

"We will continue to advise police on appropriate prosecutorial matters as this investigation progresses."

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