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Permission to use body scanners sought by prison service in smuggling crackdown

Northern Ireland's Prison Service has applied for permission to use body scanners in a crackdown on smuggling.

The technology is designed to combat the trafficking of banned items into jails.

Dissident republicans have protested against the strip-searching of inmates.

At one stage a solicitor said Maghaberry Prison was "awash with drugs". During 2014, there were 224 drug finds at the high security institution.

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change is considering whether to give x-ray imaging the go-ahead, Stormont's justice department said.

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), said: "If they come up with something that replaces strip-searching we would be delighted."

A form of scanning was trialled at Magilligan Prison in County Londonderry in 2012 but later rejected as ineffective.

Full body scanners are already in use in some airports.

The Department of Justice said: "NIPS (Northern Ireland Prison Service) have, as required by the legislation governing the use of ionising radiation for non-medical purposes, submitted a justification application.

"NOMS (National Offender Management Service) are currently going through the justification process in regards to the use of ionising radiation.

"They are submitting a report to the Department of Energy and Climate Change to ask for permission to use transmission x-ray scanners.

"There will be no further progress until this process is completed.

"As NOMS application is for a similar purpose, it is sensible that both should be considered together."

Dissident republicans issued death threats against prison staff in recent years and shot dead long-serving officer David Black.

They have campaigned to end strip-searching.

Mr Spratt said his members only carried out the procedure to protect the security of the prison and staff.

He added: "If they can protect the security of the prison and reduce the need for prison officers to be involved in what people would call degrading treatment, it is also degrading for prison officers, if they can come up with a body scanner that reduces that we would fully support that, we do not want to be involved in that."

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