Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Child killer 'was to meet kids during jail fun day'

Pland for primary school kids to visit Ulster's top security jail have been called off following rumours that a notorious child killer was to have met the youngsters.

The Prison Service refused to comment on jail speculation that Antrim man Ronald Graham - who strangled five-year-old Julie Ann Cole and then attempted to sexually abuse her body - was among inmates earmarked to meet pupils at Maghaberry Prison.

But plans for the jail visit by year 5, 6 and 7 pupils from Maghaberry Primary School have been cancelled because of what a deputy prison governor described in an internal jail circular as "false rumours" stemming from either ignorance or malice.

On Tuesday, Maghaberry PS principal David Taylor sent a circular to parents advising them a proposed visit to the jail "has had to be cancelled" .

Mr Taylor said this was because "there have been a number of recent difficulties in relation to the information regarding the programme of the day in question".

He wrote that the "Board of Governors, the Teaching Staff involved and myself are of the opinion that it is in everyone's best interests to cancel at this stage and to apologise for the disappointment caused."

Mr Taylor declined to comment about the difficulties that arose in relation to the visit to the category A jail.

But sources in the jail claim it had been the intention of senior prison staff to involve life sentence prisoners during part of the visit planned for Tuesday, December 4 and the trip was cancelled when this news was leaked to parents.

Inside the jail, one of the prisoners mentioned in connection with the visit was Ronnie Graham who has served over 25 years for killing little Julie Ann Cole in 1981.

Graham admitted strangling the girl and then attempting to indecently assault her in a house in Antrim's Steeple estate.

He told police: "I was standing watching this wee girl and something came over me. I don't know what it was but I just wanted to kill somebody, no matter who."

Two other prisoners named within the jail were also said to be life sentence prisoners.

But when Sunday Life put the allegations concerning the school trip to the Prison Service on Friday it declined to discuss the issue and even denied any visit involving schools had been planned next month.

"No events involving primary school or special needs children are planned for Maghaberry Prison before the end of this year. Maghaberry Prison is keen to develop further its links with the local community and preliminary discussions have taken place about the possibility of the prison hosting a children's fun day during 2008.

"In the event of any such event occurring, any prisoners selected to assist on the day will be carefully selected and will not include anyone who would potentially pose any risk to children," the statement said.

But a statement obtained by Sunday Life written by Acting Governor Graeme Browne confirmed school visits have been cancelled. The internal circular from Mr Browne read: "Hi folks, Just a little note to inform you all that the Children's Fun Days involving two local schools (one of which was Special Needs) organised for the 3rd and 4th of Dec 07 have been cancelled."

He added: "Sadly and unfortunately due to false rumours that either stemmed from ignorance of the facts, or even deliberate malice, we have had to cancel them.

"These nasty rumours had been leaked out into the public domain and had turned what was to have been an excellent multi-agency promotional opportunity for the community and the Prison in general, into what could have been a potential PR disaster."

Mr Browne blamed the "negative and misinformed influence" of individuals which placed the schools in the "unnecessary dilemma of having to cancel the parties".

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