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Probe after four Maghaberry prison officers hurt in attack

By Angela Rainey

Published 02/02/2016

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots

A female prison officer has been taken to hospital with scalding wounds after her and three colleagues were attacked in Maghaberry jail.

The Prison Service has launched an investigation into the incident which happened on Sunday.

It is believed that the officer had been helping to move a prisoner back to his cell when a fracas broke out.

The prisoner, refusing to return, allegedly lashed out at the four staff, scalding the female officer's leg with boiling water from a kettle in the struggle.

Her male colleagues received less serious injuries but are believed to be off sick from work as a result. The attack is being blamed on a staff shortage at the Lisburn jail which has been ongoing since 2008.

DUP Assembly member Edwin Poots said more needs to be done to recruit people to the Prison Service to prevent frustrations between staff and inmates.

He said: "There have been staff shortages at the prison for a while and it has been a big problem.

"Recruitment has been ongoing but so far the new officers are not in post yet.

"It can only be addressed by having more trained officers on the corridors and by addressing the officer/prisoner ratio.

"Staff shortages mean prisoners cannot have as much time out of their cells and I believe that is what happened in this incident."

He added: "I sympathise with the injured officers. HMP Maghaberry has been starved of personnel for two years, due to the lack of resource more is being asked of fewer staff and is leaving them stretched and vulnerable.

"It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or worse if this matter is not addressed as a matter of urgency."

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: "In line with Prison Service policy, a full investigation will now be carried out."

The attack comes only weeks after the prison was blasted as failing in a report that documented the mounting tensions within the jail, citing staff absences as one of the problems.

Released in November 2015, the report highlighted that "prisoners were experiencing severe disruption to the daily regime, leading to many frustrations throughout the prison. This meant prisoners at Maghaberry spent very long periods locked in their cells, restricting access to showers, telephones, association and other everyday domestic tasks".

Shortages in staffing are so severe that it's often one prison officer per 80 inmates, meaning prisoners must remain in their cells for longer periods.

Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, was commissioned to assist the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland inspection team.

He said Maghaberry was "the most dangerous prison" he had ever seen. He found that the prison would struggle to meet UN minimum standards for prisons worldwide and said if the situation was not addressed a major risk of "serious disorder or loss of life" would remain.

Mr Hardwick said conditions at Maghaberry were akin to those of a Dickensian Victorian jail.

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