Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2000
40. Are many regarded as addicts supplied drugs
by the Prison Medical Service?
(Mr Mogg) There is obviously a programme to deal with
anybody who comes into Maghaberry on their first committal who
might be considered to be an addict, to bring them off drugs,
but we do not use substitute treatments at the moment.
(Mr Bain) No, we do not have anybody.
(Mr Halward) It is not our policy to supply substitutes.
Our policy is one of detox of people on drugs.
41. I have some familiarity with the search
techniques employed by Customs and Excise in terms of people coming
into the country. I take it that the Service is totally familiar
with those. Are you precluded in any way, either by policy or
by statute, from using the more extreme methods of verification
as to whether drugs are being carried?
(Mr Mogg) We did have the same devices that Customs
and Excise used. We were particularly interested at the time in
whether people were trying to smuggle in weapons or explosives.
That was our target at that time. We have some of those facilities
available for a prisoner who might be carrying the drugs internally,
having transferred them on visits, which I assume is what you
are referring to. Yes, we have those facilities available to us.
Certainly in Maghaberry anyway our prisoners are not given quite
the opportunity to secrete drugs in body cavities as somebody
trying to bring them through airports from another country. Generally
speaking, we would only use such measures if we were fairly sure
that we had seen a prisoner swallow something on a visit, in other
words drugs secreted perhaps in a condom. If we had seen that
happen on our video surveillance we could use that device then
to deal with that situation. Certainly at Maghaberry, the interesting
finding of Mr Murray's report was that because our perimeter security
in terms of the drugs getting into the prison from outside is
fairly tightand we do find quite a lot of attempts to smuggle
cannabis particularly into the prisonthat actually the
biggest trade in Maghaberry was in prescribed medicines which
prisoners were able to get from our doctors and then they were
being sold on. As far as he was concerned, that was an indication
that there was not a lot of dealing going on within the prison.
Obviously you do not want to drop your guard on this because there
is a fairly heavy drug culture in certain towns in Northern Ireland
and we had a significant number of our clients who come from those
particular areas and we have a lot of prisoners on remand for
dealing and possession. We are constantly trying to keep on top
of that problem.
42. Forgive my ignorance, but unlike some members
of the Committee I have not had the benefit of visiting Maghaberry.
Could we come back to operational issues? In answer to a question
from Dr Palmer you said that there was seemingly at the moment
no purpose in seeking the introduction of segregation or that
it did not seem that segregation was back on the agenda for those
prisoners in Maghaberry. However, recent press reports have suggested
otherwise in terms of disturbances or periodic press reports have
reported disturbances. Are we saying that the press reports are
(Mr Mogg) Yes.
43. Or that there is a chance that it could
(Mr Mogg) It is something just under the surface all
the time. If a prisoner has some sort of allegiance to a Loyalist
paramilitary organisation, he is not going to be particularly
friendly to another prisoner who has an affiliation to a Nationalist
or Republic paramilitary organisation. Obviously there will be
some confrontations. The most recent press report which was that
allegedly a Loyalist leader had had a standup fight with a Republican
leader actually took place in the gymnasium during a football
match. Yes, there was a standup fight but it was over a foul on
the football pitch. The upshot of this was that they eventually
went back to the wing and had a discussion about their dispute
and decided that was the end of it. In fact the report appeared
in the press after the Republican prisoners concerned had been
released from prison, so the idea that this was an ongoing campaign
was not accurate. We are not complacent about this for one minute.
Obviously within the prison we have prisoners who claim allegiance
to a range of dissident organisations and to the standard recognised
organisations and we monitor the situation constantly to see how
best to deal with it.
44. You say there is no need for complacency.
Is that the correct term or is there still a continuing pressure
even though that pressure is very small?
(Mr Mogg) There is a continuing pressure but it is
a small pressure at the moment. There is no campaign as such.
45. The Committee was pleased to see the setup
of the Vulnerable Prisoners' Unit. It was one of the things in
the initial report which there was some criticism for. I know
it has only been in operation for six months but I just wondered
whether you could outline its regime to the Committee, by that
I mean give us a better understanding of how it operates in terms
of whether or not prisoners ever leave the unit, whether visits
take place, how prisoners are selected, those sorts of questions.
(Mr Mogg) I shall start with how prisoners are selected
and go on to the regime issues. Basically there are three types
of prisoners to whom we would offer places in the VPU. There is
a prisoner who needs to be separated from others by virtue of
the offence for which he is charged; obviously some sex offenders
fall into that category. There are those prisoners who need to
be in there either because of their past employment, for example,
policemen and prison officers, or prisoners who are inadequate,
in other words they would be bullied irrespective of what their
offence was. They are just natural prey to the bullying element.
Finally, there is a group who, for whatever reason, need protection
by virtue of affiliation to organisations or problems outside
or feuds outside. Although the VPU has all three of those types
on it at any one time, obviously the extreme cases of people who
are under threat may be accommodated somewhere else in the prison.
These would be people who, although they are under threat, we
feel they can be accommodated in the VPU. The VPU has two landings
of a normal house which is used for the induction process. Basically
the other prisoners who are in there are prisoners who are new
to the prison or prisoners waiting transfer to Magilligan prison.
Consequently they tend not to know the prisoners in the VPU all
that well. That reduces some of the pressure. The daily routine
is that all the VPU prisoners every morning are offered the opportunity
to go to the gymnasium, because obviously exercise is one of the
difficulties because you need to be able to put them in an area
where they cannot be got at by others. They are offered the opportunity
to go to the gym every morning so they can get an hour in the
gym, those who opt to go. Really for the rest of the day they
are free to associate with each other on the landings. Education
classes take place on the landing and there are dining areas and
so on and so forth. There is association between them throughout
the day. As far as visits are concerned, we would make a judgement
in each case whether it is appropriate to put them in a normal
visiting area, which is closely supervised by staff, or on occasions
we have a separate visiting facility where they and their family
would be separate from all other prisoners. Again, one makes a
judgement which is appropriate in each case. I am not saying for
one minute that the regime they are getting is as comprehensive;
there is not as much choice in it as the other prisoners would
get but it is a jolly sight better than actually being on a landing
and being bullied by other people and being frightened to come
out of your cell.
46. Is there a chance to progress out of the
(Mr Mogg) Yes. One of the interesting things about
Northern Ireland which is unique in my experiencebecause
having worked in the English Prison Service this certainly is
not the caseis that generally speaking once a prisoner
is sentenced, even if it is a sex offender, they appear in Northern
Ireland to be able to move into the general sentenced population.
Generally speaking, we would not have any sentenced sex offenders
on the VPU. We would still maintain on the VPU those prisoners
who either because of their past or because of their inadequacy
might have to stay there once sentenced and again that is for
protection. What we do is review those regularly and obviously
we use the offer of returning to normal location should their
behaviour not be up to standard. One of the dangers of any Vulnerable
Prisoners' Unit is that you end up with bullies in there. We are
constantly keeping an eye on that and the threat is there that
if you become a bully in the VPU you will go back on to normal
location. Those controls seem to be working fairly well, so far
47. Recent press reports suggested that within
the last three years almost 400 people had been injured as a result
of fires in Maghaberry. Is the figure accurate? Is there a particular
problem with the outbreak of fires in Maghaberry?
(Mr Mogg) I cannot say whether the figure is totally
accurate but certainly over the last three yearsyou appreciate
I have only been at Maghaberry since December last year so I can
only speak for my tenurethere was a fashion for setting
fires in the prison and this was used by those prisoners who wanted
to disrupt things and who set these fires. Amongst the prisoners
there were one or two prisoners who were convicted of offences
which were to do with arson and seemed expert at being able to
construct devices which would set fires. What I have done since
I have been at Maghaberry is first of all to reduce the amount
of flammable material. One of the targets always was the television
sets in the recreation rooms and they would set a device in there
and these things would catch fire, lots and lots of very dangerous
smoke and the effect would be that staff would be off sick with
smoke injuries. Quite simply, under health and safety I removed
the televisions and that obviously reduces the problem quite significantly.
(Mr Halward) We might add that there are televisions
in cells at Maghaberry. We are not depriving prisoners of televisions
(Mr Mogg) It was unnecessary to have both. The other
thing is to make sure there is not too much rubbish left around
generally and keeping an eye out when groups of prisoners are
getting together and they may be working on this. Certainly in
the last nine months there has been a significant reduction in
the number of fires, but there are still prisoners who think that
this is a means of disrupting the routine and it is a strange
phenomena which I have certainly not come across in my prison
career other than in Northern Ireland. It is extremely dangerous
48. Just for the record, could you break down
those injuries in terms of number of injuries to staff and the
number of injuries to prisoners?
(Mr Mogg) We could certainly provide you with that
information. I do not have it to hand.
(Mr Mogg) May I add that there were two
other things of significance. One was to introduce restrictions
on the movement of prisoners within Maghaberry, previously prisoners
could go from their own bit of prison into another. The houses
at Maghaberry have about 140 prisoners in each and at one stage
we allowed prisoners when on association to move freely throughout
the whole of that house. We now divide them roughly into half
for those purposes. So somebody cannot nip downstairs and set
a fire and nip back to their own landing. We have done some physical
improvements. We have got devices called inundation points in
the cell doors so if there is a fire inside a cell you can put
it out much more quickly. Our policy is to keep cell doors closed
now whether the prisoners are in or out because the problem in
most cases is smoke spreading.
(Mr Halward) A particularly bad period
during my time in Northern Ireland was around the end of 1998
and the first couple of months of 1999 when it really was very
serious. It is much better now. Things of this sort are a bit
of a fashion in prisons, would you believe? Albany in England
had a lot of problems with fires in the mid 1970's, a very old
example. Then you can break out of it. We think we are getting
on top of the position at Maghaberry but it is quite tricky.
49. As a matter of reassurance that this session
is coming towards an end, let me ask three quick housekeeping
questions at the end. I listened to the exchanges with Dr Palmer
where he was preoccupied about cost and your responses to them.
What I cannot remember was whether he asked you for the officer/prisoner
ratio once the staff reduction programme had been completed. If
he did not, and that is a failing on my part not to be sure, it
would be helpful to have it, and it would be helpful to have the
comparable figures for England, Scotland and Wales. We do not
need to have them in this session, but statistically it would
be helpful to have them. I am conscious of a need for a legislative
base for the Prison Service. Is there anything you can tell us
about what you think the timetable might be?
(Mr Bain) As we said in our briefing, we are operating
off a Prison Act Northern Ireland 1953, which has been amended
many times and to be frank it is quite difficult to work out what
the legislation is in a number of areas. Our Prison Rules are
rather more up to date from 1995 and the fact that they come from
1995 has been very helpful with the introduction of the Human
Rights Act in Northern Ireland because our Rules were drafted
to take that into account which has meant we have had to change
rather less though there have been a couple of areas. One was
removal of the powers of adjudication and very shortly legislation
will be introduced in this place to deal with the removal of the
Secretary of State's power to determine the release date of life
sentenced prisoners. There are other areas where our legislation
really is no longer appropriate, which is not surprising given
it is getting on for 50 years old. We have within the last couple
of weeks written to a number of interest groups in Northern Ireland
saying that we intend to review all the legislation and asking
them to identify any particular areas of concern to them. Subject
to getting a slot in the legislative programme, we would hope
to be in a position to bring forward a completely new legislative
framework probably in 2001-2002.
50. I offer you the slight comfort, and I realise
it will be slight, that the Crown Estate Paving Commission, which
was preoccupied under the original legislation with lighting and
paving, operates under an Act of 1827 and improvements in lighting
technology have of course occurred in the intervening 173 years.
What is more serious however is that they are now responsible
for parking regulations and coping with that under the 1827 legislation
which is a great deal more complicated. You have answered the
question I asked. The Prisons Ombudsman. Is there any light you
can shed on that or is that all going to be part of the same legislation?
(Mr Bain) That would be part; our intention would
be to take that forward as part of the same legislation. We have
decided in principle that we should have one as part of our overall
review of the complaints procedure and we shall be able to introduce
parts of that before we have an Ombudsman and that is aimed at
solving the problems much closer to the point of action and delivery.
As regards the Ombudsman, we have looked there at whether we should
have a statutory scheme as they have in Scotland or a non-statutory
scheme as they presently have in England and Wales. We were conscious
that nearly all the other ombudsmen in Northern Ireland are on
a statutory basis, notably the police and military complaints.
We think that would be more appropriate for Northern Ireland,
indeed I understand that our English colleagues are minded to
move in that direction as well. Again it is finding a legislative
vehicle. The first one which is readily clear to us is our review
of the prisoners' legislation. If there were another suitable
legislative vehicle we might be able to move faster.
(Mr Halward) We try to learn from the experience both
of Scotland and in particular England and Wales over the whole
business of requests and complaints and the Ombudsman. One of
the things they found in England was that the people who most
used the Ombudsman were those who arguably least needed to: long-term
experienced prisoners with good access to lawyers and so on. We
are trying to design a system in Northern Ireland which gets at
the more vulnerable prisoners, a system which is easy for them
to use, which enables most complaints to be raised and solved
almost at landing level. We are out to consultation on that at
the moment with a view to introducing that quite soon; within
months rather than a longer timescale. We think that will achieve
most of the objectives that we need in this whole area. We then
just need an Ombudsman for the top one or two per cent of issues.
51. In anticipation of legislation, have you
formed a view as to who should appoint the Ombudsman and to whom
the Ombudsman would report?
(Mr Bain) No, that is a matter which will be taken
forward during the consultation process. There are several options.
We would want to look at best practice elsewhere and take the
views of the communities and the interest groups.
52. My final housekeeping question relates to
the formalisation of the role of the Prison Inspectorate in Northern
Ireland. Are you likely to be affected by the current review which
is occurring of the Inspectorate in England and Wales? Is there
any hazard of that delaying the work on your side? I recall that
in our report we did raise as a proposal the possibility of a
link with the Scottish Inspectorate and I wondered whether there
was any light you could shed on either of those issues.
(Mr Bain) On the links with Scotland, yes, that was
indeed looked at by my colleagues. At that time it was felt it
was not appropriate. The views of Sir David Ramsbotham were also
taken on that and as you appreciate, he was already involved and
wished to continue in that role. There are two factors: first
of all the Criminal Justice Review in Northern Ireland recommends
a joint inspectorate. We expect the Government's response on that
very soon and that might point us in a particular direction. There
is of course the review in England and Wales. That is not actually
holding up any inspections of prisons in Northern Ireland; Sir
David has already started.
53. No, I was not implying that.
(Mr Bain) It might delay a little bit formalisation
of the arrangement. If there were going to be any significant
delay we should certainly look again at the possibility of Scotland
taking on the role. We certainly wish to have it formalised at
an early stage and put on a proper footing.
54. I am quite sure I speak on behalf of the
whole Committee that we are extremely grateful to you for the
evidence you have given and the answers you have given have served
to confirm the very favourable impression we formed of your progress
report. I am conscious of a seminar taking place tomorrow between
senior managers and trade union representatives and if it were
appropriate I hope you would not hesitate to refer to the session
which we have had and the very good view we have taken of the
general progress which has been effected since we published our
(Mr Halward) Thank you very much. I shall be very
happy to pass that on tomorrow morning.
4 Note added by witness: During 2000, five
fires were started by prisoners in Maghaberry. These resulted
in 13 staff suffering smoke inhalation and two prisoners receiving
minor injuries. Back