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Six charged over prison blaze 'that could have killed'

Published 19/01/2016

Michael Mongan is accused of arson
Michael Mongan is accused of arson
Martin Murray is accused of arson

Six men have been charged following a blaze at Maghaberry Prison's Erne House last year that led to an independent investigation into how the fire started.

The external investigation was recommended by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in a critical report that claimed the fire "almost resulted in fatalities".

All six charged at Lisburn Magistrates Court yesterday are accused of arson, burglary with intent to cause unlawful damage, arson with intent to endanger life and criminal damage.

The accused include three men whose addresses were given as Maghaberry Prison: Patrick Michael David Bell (34), Michael Mongan (25) and Hugh Samuel Carson (28).

The others were Thomas Joseph Gerard Mongan, also known as McDonagh (29), of Lever Street, Belfast; Damien James Mullan (47), of Emerson Terrace, Sion Mills, and Martin Raymond Jude Murray (29), of Windmill Drive, Dungannon.

It is alleged the accused entered a store in Erne House on April 25, 2015 without lawful excuse and damaged windows, taps, Perspex sheets and seats, by fire with intent, as well as destroying the store and being reckless as to whether the lives of others would be endangered.

Bell, Carson, Murray and Michael Mongan were remanded in continuing custody, while the remainder are on bail.

The case is due back before Lisburn Magistrates Court next month.

In a critical report following an unannounced inspection in May 2015, carried out by a team of experts and headed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the incident was singled out as being of particular concern.

A recommendation was made that an independent review should be carried out into the handling of the incident.

The inspectors reported: "The fire at Erne House shortly before the inspection almost resulted in fatalities. We heard different accounts from prisoners, staff, local and national managers about how the incident occurred and how it was managed.

"Different parties blamed each other for their handling of the incident."

The recommendation read: "The Department of Justice should commission an independent inquiry into the causes and management of the fire at Erne House and what lessons can be learnt for the future.

"The inquiry should identify any misconduct or neglect by responsible individuals and action should be taken accordingly". It is understood the independent review is under way and is being conducted by a senior governor from the National Offender Management Service.

Last May Justice Minister David Ford claimed that "a group of prisoners had deliberately started a fire" which was extinguished by the Fire and Rescue Service.

He also stated there had been "no immediate requirement to evacuate prisoners from their cells".

The following month Mr Ford stated the alleged perpetrators had been charged with serious offences including arson.

The minister added that the fire damage was isolated to a store room, link corridor and staff control pod which had to be redecorated, and repairs carried out to electronic equipment, while other items required to be replaced.

Erne House can accommodate up to 130 mostly determinate sentence and life-sentence prisoners, and a small number of inmates on remand.

Belfast Telegraph

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