Northern Ireland

Maghaberry jail staff reinstated after Colin Bell death

Maghaberry Prison
Image caption The disciplinary charges followed the suicide of Colin Bell at Maghaberry Prison

Ten prison service staff who faced disciplinary charges following the suicide of a prisoner at Maghaberry Jail have been reinstated after appeals.

Colin Bell, who was serving a life sentence for murder, hanged himself at the jail in July 2008.

He had been on suicide watch.

The Prisoner Ombudsman later made 44 recommendations in a highly critical report.

Eight night custody officers who were recommended for dismissal have now been reinstated.

Two senior prison officers recommended for demotion have also been returned to their previous positions, with a formal warning.

The cases of three other prison officers have yet to be resolved.

'Scapegoats'

The chairman of the Prison Officers Association, Finlay Spratt, said the news that ten prison staff would be reinstated was a "just outcome".

"What we have said is the procedures were not applied and they were being used as political scapegoats, unfortunately over the sad death of a prisoner," he said.

The governor and deputy governor at Maghaberry were replaced after a review into the death of Bell, but did not face disciplinary action.

An earlier report found some staff who were supposed to be monitoring him were watching television while they were supposed to be on duty.

On Thursday, the director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Robin Masefield, said he intended to step down from his post before the end of this year.

Concern

Management within prisons in Northern Ireland has been heavily criticised in a series of reports by inspectors.

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney, who is vice-chair of the Assembly's justice committee, expressed his concern at the reinstatement of the prison officers and the timing of Mr Masefield's departure.

"There is significant evidence that the prison service rather than being controlled by senior management is in fact run by the Prison Officers Association," he said.

The Northern Ireland Prison Service confirmed that an independent appeal panel had concluded its deliberations in 10 out of the 13 cases.

"The panel have upheld the appeals of eight night custody officers and reduced the penalty awarded to two senior officers," a spokesman said.

"We await the full detail of the panel's decision which we will wish to consider carefully."

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