THE PRISON Service has defended the staging of a behind bars karaoke party days after a similar event caused a Covid-19 virus outbreak in Limavady.
Sources say staff and inmates who crooned at the Hydebank competition shared the same microphone - the exact way 37 people ended up infected following a house party in the north-west town two weeks ago.
But the Department of Justice stressed the outdoor event met the latest Covid-19 safety requirements.
But Hydebank sources raised concerns.
"Staff and prisoners were sharing a microphone and singing and shouting, it was as if the recent outbreak never happened," said a source.
"The new prison officer recruits were told to come along in non-uniform to support the event. You could tell that a lot of them were nervous given dozens of people contracted Covid-19 in Limavady because they shared a microphone at a karaoke party."
A spokesman for the Prison Service defended the Hydebank sing-along, stressing that it was held outdoors and the governor ensured it met the latest Covid-19 requirements.
He said: "As part of the work to support the people in our care during the Covid-19 pandemic, Hydebank Wood College held an open air event earlier last week.
"This was carefully organised and was held in accordance with public health guidelines, including social distancing and hygiene control.
"The governor and his team at Hydebank are to be commended for the innovative ways they are keeping people safe, both physically and mentally, in very challenging circumstances," added the spokesman. "Hydebank Wood College remains free of Covid-19, with no staff or prisoners testing positive."
Ulster Unionist MLA and justice spokesman Doug Beattie (below) questioned whether the karaoke event should have gone ahead.
He said: "Is it really a sensible idea to have an open mic karaoke where both prisoners and staff share the same mic? The fact that the event was outdoors means little if everyone is speaking and breathing into the same mic, spreading both natural germs and possibly the Covid-19 germ."
Mr Beattie commended the Prison Service for keeping the virus out of Northern Ireland's three jails but warned against complacency.
Most of the 37 people who tested positive for Covid-19 following the Limavady outbreak did not attend the karaoke party. They were infected after coming into contact with those who did.
Around 150 people were subsequently tracked down by the Public Health Authority and checked for coronavirus.