Belfast Telegraph

'Unit of prison officers out of control'... former chief slams conduct of staff

BY ALAN ERWIN

A unit of prison officers at the high-security Maghaberry Prison seemed to be out of control, its former governor has told a court.

Steve Rodford said he believed some staff tried to intimidate him by planting a note containing his car registration details in the cell of a man later found guilty of a police murder.

Mr Rodford was giving evidence at the appeal hearing of Brendan McConville (42) and John Paul Wootton (22).

Both men are seeking to overturn their convictions for killing Constable Stephen Carroll.

The PSNI officer was ambushed and shot dead as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009.

The defence claims that police were intent on prosecuting McConville at all costs.

Part of their case is that after the note was discovered in McConville's remand cell in September 2009, detectives failed to investigate his claims that it had been planted.

Mr Rodford then quit his post in December that year, just months after taking over.

He told the Court of Appeal of his unproven "gut feeling" that a member of staff was behind the note. At the time he was trying to implement changes at the prison, including the "extremely unpopular" disbandment of the Standby Search (SS) Team, judges heard.

Mr Rodford recalled how he felt after being informed of the find by one of those officers.

"The smug manner in which he approached me. The feeling as I remember thinking quite strongly the prison was out of control, actually people of the SS unbelievably trying to intimidate the governor," he said.

"That was how it felt to me, the prison had many members of staff there that were way out of control, the way they were operating as prison officers which was a shame (as there were good officers too)."

The former Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland also gave evidence yesterday.

She said she believed that there had not been a proper police investigation into the claims that the note had been planted.

Mrs McCabe – who had carried out her own investigation into the note in 2011 – had concluded that on the balance of probabilities it was planted by a member of prison staff.

She told how she went to a PSNI Assistant Chief Constable over her concerns that McConville may be prosecuted for the find without detectives properly considering that he was not responsible.

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