Belfast Telegraph

Wardens refused to push wheelchair

A prison governor had to push the wheelchair of a terminally ill killer because warders refused to do so, it has been revealed.

Governors twice transported loyalist murderer George Armstrong, 59, to the healthcare unit inside Maghaberry Prison, Co Antrim, after the officers said they were not trained to wheel him and were uncertain about liability cover.

The incidents detailed in a report by Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe happened only weeks before the former paramilitary died in a Belfast hospice from cancer. However at that stage the seriousness of his condition was not known to prison staff.

Armstrong was jailed for life during the Troubles for beating 35-year-old Protestant James Hamilton to death with a hammer in 1989 on Belfast's lower Ormeau Road in a murder blamed on the Ulster Volunteer Force.

He was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and later fled to England, claiming the Ulster Defence Association was hounding him.

He was returned to jail in England in 2004 for a wounding offence and transferred to Maghaberry in 2005.

Mrs McCabe's investigation into his death, three years later, highlighted the lack of clear policy or guidelines in relation to wheelchair use in Maghaberry, Northern Ireland's only high security jail.

Her probe also detailed disputes between prison officers and staff in the healthcare unit about securing appointments for the prisoner, who was being held in a complex which was a bus journey and 400-metre walk away from the medical facility.

While Armstrong had a number of ongoing health issues during his time at Maghaberry, in August 2008 his condition started to deteriorate and he developed a chronic cough.

By this stage he had been transferred to the Mourne complex outside the prison's main wall as part of his resettlement plan.

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