THE Prison service has been accused of trying to put out a ‘firestorm’ after it played down a serious fire at Maghaberry Gaol last week.
Sources within the prison say tensions between inmates and staff are at an all-time low as swingeing staff cuts continue to bite. Last week there were two fires started within the jail – one in Roe House and the other in Erne House which jails long term sex offenders. Sources have told the Sunday World they were started deliberately and the second fire in Erne House has caused hundreds of thousdands of pounds worth the damage. However, despite a number of sources telling us that the fire caused mayhem at the prison last Sunday, the Prison Service has played the incident down. We spoke to a number of soucres including prison officers and inmates who told us the fire, which was started in a storeroom at Erne House last Sunday, was a mayor incident. We have been told inmates are feed up with being locked up in their cells 24/7 each day and ran amok at one stage after starting the fire.
“It’s complete chaos in here because threre are few staff on duty which means prisoners are being locked up 24 hours a day,” Said one inmate who witnessed the fire in in Erne House. “The fire started in a storeroom but it quickly spread though the ducts and prisoners managed to get into the Senior Officers room and started smashing lap-tops and other equipment. “It took them six hours to put the fire out and on Monday inmates from Erne House were transferred to Folye House.” But the Prison Service remains adamant that it was a small fire, nobody was injured and there was no evacution of Erne House. “It’s no surprise that the Prison Service is keen to play down the incidents as senior staff/bosses have continued to come under fire for a staff chris which has been blamed for stoking up tensions inside the jail. Another prisoner source told us: Erne House was built to hold 108 prisioners but it has dozens more in it at the moment and there are so many new recruits leaving the service that officers are struggling to cope. “If there’s not enough staff then inmates are hardly allowed out of their cells because it’s not safe in case they kick off. “This is causing major problems and it’s only a matter of time before the place in case they kick off. “This is causing major problems and it’s only a matter of time before the place completely erupts.” The Sunday World has previously revealed tensions within the prison between the old and new guard with the new prison custody officers earning just over £18,000 – half what some of their colleagues are getting paid for doing the same job. Last year we revealed how the Prison Service was facing a staffing crisis as the so-called ‘yellow-pack’ workers were leaving in droves. The Prision Service, under the guidence of Director General Sue McAllister, embarked on a massive restucturing programne aimed at reducing costs while charging the regime by bringing in hundreds of new recruits.
With many thanks to: Steven Moore, The Sunday World, for the origional story.