Anger over threat to prison officers

Published Thursday, 01 November 2012
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The current security situation for prison officers at Maghaberry is "absolutely ridiculous", the wife of a serving officer has told UTV - in the wake of the murder of one of her husband's colleagues.

Anger over threat to prison officers
The prison officer killed in a suspected dissident attack worked at Maghaberry. (© UTV)

On Thursday morning, a prison officer - now named as 52-year-old Cookstown man David Black - was killed when gunmen opened fire on his car and it then left the M1 motorway near Lurgan and crashed.

Mr Black, who was on his way to work at Maghaberry when he was killed, is understood to have served as a prison officer for over 30 years - including during the 1981 hunger strikes in the Maze.

"I feel sorry for all prison officers, especially at Maghaberry," the wife of one of his colleagues told U105's Frank Mitchell, claiming that security was not tight enough.

"When they go in to go to work in the morning, you've got the visits there as well on their entrance in - anybody who's going to the prison to visit their relatives can see the officers going in and out of those gates, can see their cars, can see everything."

Members of the security forces have long been targeted by dissident republicans, who have also mounted ongoing protests inside Maghaberry.

The chairman of the Prison Officers' Association has slammed those responsible for the fatal attack.

It's a complete and utter waste of life, and they have destroyed a family.

Finlay Spratt, Prison Officers' Association

"I can't understand why an officer should lose his life who is doing a job on behalf of the public," Finlay Spratt, who knew the victim, said.

"And if these dissidents think that this progresses their complaints any better, I have a message for them - they are wasting their time."

Mr Spratt added: "The forerunners of the terrorist organisations of this country murdered 29 of my colleagues and it didn't progress their cause.

"I believe that all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland should be standing together and saying: 'No, enough's enough'."

Speaking about David Black, Mr Spratt added: "I found him to be a very nice fellow to work with.

"He always ensured he did his job to the letter. He was a very good officer - he certainly did his bit."

Mr Spratt also criticised the lack of security for prison officers since the end of the Troubles.

"They've stripped away all the security around prison officers. They treat us now as if we live in normal society," he said.

According to the Prison Service's director general, Sue McAllister, Mr Black had expressed interest in an early retirement scheme - but his departure date had not been set.

We will not allow this to derail the efforts that we are making to reform the service, but we will do everything we can to support all of our staff in the very difficult days ahead.

Sue McAllister, Prison Service

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said police had been working closely with the Prison Service over recent weeks and years and that more conversations on security for officers would follow the attack.

"We have been aware that dissident republican groups have been targeting prison officers," Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris added.

"They have been a subject of targeting and conspiracy to murder by dissident republican groups."

Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Terry Spence, added his voice to those expressing disgust over the killing.

"The murder was a callous and cowardly attack on a public servant working on behalf of the community," he said.

"Prison officers and police officers alike are aware of the deadly threat from dissident terrorists who won't face up to the fact that Northern Ireland has moved on and will not go back to its awful past.

"We must all be totally vigilant about our personal safety. At this particular time, the thoughts of my members are with his family."

Police are urging anyone with information to call 0845 600 8000 and ask for the murder incident room, or to pass information anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

© UTV News
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