Republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail were assaulted on Thursday night by scores of prison warders in a continuing dispute over controlled movement and forced strip searching, it has been reported.
The prisoners are all housed on Roe 3 wing of the prison and are aligned to the Continuity IRA, and had been holding a peaceful protest to draw attention to both issues as well as the continuing isolation of prisoner Gavin Coyle.
In response, up to 100 members of the prison’s infamous ‘riot squad’ stormed the canteen and yard areas on Thursday night and ordered the prisoners to lock themselves in their cells. The squad them violently removed the prisoners to their cells, resulting in several injuries to the prisoners.
On Friday morning, the (OC) Officer Commanding of the CIRA prisoners met with prison officials who told him if the prisoners were “not in their cells” by 7.30pm every night, they would be “met with the same action”.
The development is the latest example of a deteriorating situation at Maghaberry, particularly on the Roe 3 landing. The mistreatment of a seriously ill prisoner on the landing, Ta McWilliams, has previously raised grave concerns among prison campaigners.
In a recent account of his experiences released through the Republican Network for Unity, the former H-Block political prisoner revealed how he had been experiencing heart problems for over a week, culminating in chest pains but was told by prison medical staff to “go back to his cell and lie down”.
After spending a night in pain, he managed to see a nurse who organised hospital treatment.
“I was stripped searched by prison officers before being placed handcuffed into an ambulance to a screw, it was clear to anyone that I was in no fit state to be a threat to anyone by this stage,” he said.
“At the A&E I had tests taken and the cardiac doctor told me I had taken a heart attack. The doctor was in disbelief when I told him that these pains had been ongoing for ten days and [he] demanded from the screws to know why I hadn’t been brought to hospital earlier. They told him that it wasn’t their job to know.”
The next day Mr McWilliams had a stent placed into his heart to relieve a blocked artery. But when he was brought back to Maghaberry prison, he was forcibly strip-searched despite his medical condition.
“Two screws then grabbed an arm each and forced me to the ground,” he said. “One held my head and forced my chin into my chest. They forcibly removed my shoes socks and jeans. They then yanked my underwear from me.
“After a brief search of my clothing they half put my bottom half clothing back on. I was then forced up onto my knees and had my arms stretched up above my head and they took my shirt off me over my head.
“I was in agony and informed them of my pain and discomfort. They they released my arms and dropped me to the floor.”
He was later told by a prison governor that the strip-search had been based on advice from “health professionals”, without further explanation. Campaigners aligned with prisoner support group Cogus again this week called on Sinn Fein and the other Stormont parties to ensure Mr McWilliams receives appropriate medical treatment.