Governor feared surge in smuggled substances after jail visits resumed
A major drugs probe is under way at a high-security prison after several inmates fell ill from taking pills smuggled inside.
Thirteen prisoners at Maghaberry jail’s Braid House unit, which mostly holds dangerous lifers, were tested for drugs, with six returning positive samples.
The major incident occurred just days before governor David Savage admitted that the resumption of face-to-face-visits, which were cancelled because of the pandemic, would result in more drugs being brought into the prison.
The bad batch of pills is believed to have been smuggled inside by inmates who had been on temporary day release.
Convicted murderer Keith Mawhinney (42), who is locked up at the Wilson House unit in Maghaberry, is being blamed for distributing the drugs.
The Ballymena thug is serving a life sentence for beating a man to death with a pickaxe handle in Hartlepool in 1998.
While out on licence in 2016, he used an imitation handgun to try and rob a Ballymena pizza delivery driver, resulting in him being caged for a further five years.
“Mawhinney was supposedly handing out the pills like sweeties,” explained a source at Maghaberry.
“He denied it, of course, but he is the one who is being blamed.”
Among the prisoners said to be “off their heads” were serial woman beater and drug user Johnny Vize (35) and killer Lee Wright (44), who urinated on the body of his victim Noel McComb and then tried to set fire to his lifeless body.
Our source also named murderer David ‘DD’ McCord (51), who strangled and stabbed girlfriend Nichola Dickson in 2003, as another regular Maghaberry drug user, and Lisburn thug James Stewart (31), who is awaiting sentencing for possessing firearms.
“The jail is awash with drugs. It’s easier to get them in here than it is on the streets,” added the insider.
“Since visits and temporary release schemes restarted, more and more drugs are being found.
“The prison staff are doing their best to keep them out, but they are understaffed and morale is low.”
The Prison Service insisted it had effective arrangements in place to detect individuals who attempt to traffic or who use illegal substances. A spokesman said: “These are particularly important as part of the procedures for pre-release testing.
“A small number of individuals were detected through these measures at the beginning of October and appropriate action was taken.
“This demonstrates the effectiveness of Prison Service processes to prevent the harm that drugs can cause to people in our care and the community.”
In the most recent report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) into drug use at Maghaberry, 46% of inmates surveyed said it was easy to get illicit drugs in the prison.
Another worrying figure is that 22% of the prisoners spoken to said they only developed a drug problem after being locked up at the jail.
When the findings were published, the CJI’s chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said he was “frustrated” that more had not been done to improve prisoner safety and that their access to illegal and prescription drugs must be addressed.
Last month, Mr Savage admitted that with face-to-face visits resuming at the jail, drug seizures would likely increase.
He said: “As things begin to open up again, we know some people are determined to smuggle drugs into our prisons.”
The prison governor was speaking during a visit to Maghaberry Prison by Justice Minister Naomi Long, who met with prison dog handlers tasked with detecting drugs.
She was told how 16,000 visitor searches had been carried out across Northern Ireland’s three jails since early last year, with drugs and contraband discovered on 576 occasions.