Belfast Telegraph

Staff attacks at Maghaberry double

The number of assaults on staff by inmates at Northern Ireland's high security prison has doubled.

Maghaberry in Co Antrim is understaffed and warders are under pressure, Edwin Poots told the Assembly.

He called for urgent action to address the situation.

The DUP assembly member added: "We are not seeing an improvement in safety at Maghaberry Prison under this regime, under this minister, under this director general."

The number of assaults on staff by inmates increased from 47 between August 2011 and July 2012 to 94 between 2013 and 2014, Mr Poots said. The total of assaults on other prisoners grew from 316 to 342.

The Prison Service has undergone a significant overhaul, with a redundancy scheme for long-serving staff and a recruitment drive for new members.

Mr Poots said the number working at Maghaberry was 812 compared to an expected number of more than 860.

The Lagan Valley assembly member told the assembly: "There is an issue in recruitment that the minister and director general (Sue McAllister) and her officials need to address, has not been addressed and consequently that is putting the prison under more pressure."

Justice Minister David Ford said it was being addressed.

MLAs were debating a recent report on arrangements for dissident republican inmates.

Recently, rules on conducting full body searches were eased in some circumstances as part of the "normalisation" of security arrangements, the authorities said. Staff are still under serious threat following the murder of warder David Black in 2012.

Maghaberry holds inmates in closely guarded separated units, with tight restrictions on movement and measures to detect hidden guns or communications equipment.

But a review found that the requirement for random full body searching on the way to visits had been eased following a lengthy "dirty protest", a tactic used by IRA prisoners in 1970s and early 1980s. Inmates are no longer routinely subjected to the precautionary procedure when leaving prison on final discharge or home leave, the Prison Service confirmed.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said the report acknowledged that significant progress had been made.

"The report also makes clear that no changes should be made that would compromise the security and safety of the prison, its staff and prisoners. Some have suggested that the recommendations will do the opposite, but they are wrong.

"David Ford has made absolutely clear that he has not, and will not, compromise on security, and his record stands on that issue. None of the recommendations risk a return to the conditions that once existed in the Maze prison."

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