29/03/2011

Northern Ireland Jail 'Threat' Note Probed

A criminal inquiry has begun after a prison officer allegedly planted personal details about his governor on a note in a dissident republican suspect's cell.

The note planted in the cell of Brendan McConville, who is accused of murdering Pc Stephen Carroll in Craigavon in 2009, contained personal details about former Maghaberry Jail governor, Steve Rodford.

Mr Rodford, resigned a short time after the note was found, less than five months after he was appointed, fearing he was under threat.

Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe, who completed an 18-month investigation into the incident, made the findings.

The solicitor representing Mr McConville, Kevin Winters, commented: "A key component of the investigation will be whether or not this was an isolated act or indeed, whether or not a person or persons were acting in concert. I think the material does show that finding, that in effect more than one person may have been involved."

He also said Mr McConville would challenge the case against him over the murder of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll.

Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe concluded in her report that the note was hidden in the cell by a member of staff opposed to planned reforms at the prison.

Ms McCabe has now said that, "on the balance of probabilities" the note was planted in the cell by a member of prison service staff and that the purpose was to encourage the governor to reconsider the planned changes.

The ombudsman said there were reasonable grounds to indicate prison staff leaked incorrect information to the media that dissident republicans were actively targeting Mr Rodford.

The police have now launched a criminal investigation.

The Prison Service confirmed it had received a copy of the Prisoner Ombudsman's report following a complaint by prisoner Brendan McConville.

Meanwhile, the former Vice-Chair of the Assembly Justice Committee, Raymond McCartney welcoming the Prison Ombudsman's Report.

"The contents of this report confirms what Sinn Féin has been saying all along. The influence of elements within the Prison Officers Association (POA) has had a detrimental effect on the operation of Prisons for too long.

“The sooner all of the Prisons Review recommendations are implemented the better. The POA can not be allowed to dictate Prison policies or operation."

(JG/GK)

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