Prison officers protest against Magilligan closure

Image caption Prison officer representatives handed over a petition to Justice Minister David Ford

Several dozen protesters have held a demonstration at proposals to close Magilligan Prison, Northern Ireland's second largest jail.

Campaigners, including Finlay Spratt, the chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, handed over a petition signed by thousands people to Justice Minister David Ford.

Mr Ford is consulting on the future of the prison estate.

Mr Spratt said closing Magilligan would be a "mistake".

"The minister as far as I'm concerned is wasting public money," he said.

Mr Spratt said a more central location would not necessarily be an improvement for officers, prisoners and their families.

"This is the long time strategy for privatisation of the prison service in Northern Ireland and we believe this a backwards step," he said.

"It's political manipulation by those advising the justice minister."

Magilligan opened 40 years ago and more than 400 people currently work at the jail.

It is a medium to low security prison which holds qualifying male inmates with six years or fewer to serve.

The demonstration was supported by politicians including the UUP's Mike Nesbitt and the DUP's Gregory Campbell.

In April, Stormont's Justice Minister, David Ford, defended plans to close Magilligan, calling it "a relic of the 1970s H-blocks".

Mr Ford also argued that the majority of prisoners were from the greater Belfast area and their families found the long journey difficult.

In a statement the Prison Service said a comprehensive consultation had been undertaken on the entire prison estate including the future of Magilligan Prison and a final decision would be made by 2013.