Unionist anger over 'Bobby Sands death bed' preserved at Maze prison
An old prison hospital bed at the centre of controversy cannot be proved beyond doubt to be the one IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died in, it has been claimed.
Questions have been raised after new BBC documentary Who Won The War? was broadcast last night, showing veteran journalist Peter Taylor sitting on the bare metal bed frame in a cell at the hospital wing of the former Maze Prison talking about the significance of the hunger strikes during the Troubles.
Mr Taylor said it was the bed that Sands died on, adding that people visiting on tours over the years have taken away springs as souvenirs.
But the claims have caused fury, going to the heart of unionist concerns over how a proposed peace centre at the Maze site might be used to glorify republican terrorism.
TUV leader Jim Allister hit out at the decision to keep a bed in the cell Sands died in after 66 days on the 1981 fast.
"The fact that these relics of Sands have been preserved will galvanise unionists in their opposition to a so-called peace centre anywhere near the Maze," he claimed.
Former senior Sinn Fein strategist Danny Morrison said it would be "fortuitous" if the bed was the one in which Sands died.
He said the only way to ascertain would be by checking the logs from the prison – if they still existed.
"There is no guarantee that is exactly the same bed, but the hospital was working right up until the jail closed," he said.
"I was in that cell in 2001 and that bed was there. I can't say it is definitely the bed that Bobby Sands died on. If it is the bed he died on, it is fortuitous rather than planned."
He added: "Normally speaking when furniture was moved, like if new tables were coming on to a wing and old tables taken away, it was logged. Where those logs are now, I have no idea. Whether in the Public Record Office or at the NIO."
Mr Morrison said regardless of whether the bed was authentic, the most important issue is maintaining the history of the Maze.
"Whether that is the bed is interesting and intriguing, but the most important element is that we as a society can learn from that period and that prison," he said.
In a bizarre twist last night, loyalist victims' campaigner Willie Frazer claimed he swapped the bed with another one in 2007.
Meanwhile, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which owns the Maze, did not respond to a query on the history of the bed.
On May 5, 1981 IRA prisoner Bobby Sands became the first of 10 republicans to die on hunger strike at the Maze Prison. The hunger strike followed the dirty protest in a long running campaign for political status within the jail.
Sands had been voted in as the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone at a by election just a month before his death. He is regarded as a folk hero within Irish republican circles. His death marked the beginning of Sinn Fein's ascent in mainstream politics.