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Inmates ‘deal drugs at prison Mass’

Prisoners are using attendance at Mass as a cover for shifting drugs, the High Court in Belfast has heard.

This has resulted in some prisoners in Magilligan jail, Co Londonderry, not being allowed to attend Mass, a prison governor said.

The decision was challenged by prisoner Stephen McAree, from west Belfast, but his application for judicial review was dismissed by Mr Justice Treacy.

A prison governor told the court: “The movement and transfer of drugs between prisoners occurs most frequently at times and places where prisoners congregate in large groups.

“For that reason, prisoners transferred to the Harm Protection Unit (HRU) are restricted in accessing situations where prisoners gather en masse.

“Regrettably, it has been the experience of senior management that attendance at Mass is one of the instances used to transfer contraband materials between prisoners. For that reason, the prisoners in HRU are not permitted to attend Mass within the prison population.”

The court had been told that the Roman Catholic chaplain Father O'Hagan had offered to conduct a separate Mass for McAree and other prisoners in the unit, but then declined after he was confronted by three prisoners who subjected him to hostile abuse about his alleged co-operation with the prison authorities.

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Mr Justice Treacy said significant efforts had been made to facilitate McAree and others in the HRU.

“The decision of the chaplain to withdraw his offer is attributable directly to the applicant's inappropriate conduct and that of the inmates who accompanied him,” said the judge. “The efforts made to ensure he could attend Mass were frustrated by his actions.”

McAree and another prisoner, Patrick Watson, also from west Belfast, were successful in their challenge against the decision to transfer them to the HRU, claiming procedural unfairness.

However, Mr Justice Treacy said he was refusing to quash the decision and instead directed that prison authorities reconsider the matter. In the meantime, both prisoners will remain in the HRU.

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