Legal challenges to Maghaberry regime

A prisoner at Maghaberry jail has received High Court permission to challenge prison authorities over stripsearching policies.

Harry Fitzsimmons has been ordered to undergo full body searches before being allowed into video-link consultations at Maghaberry jail.

Fitzsimmons is serving an eight year sentence for being part of a Provisional IRA unit that abducted dissident republican Bobby Tohill at a city centre bar in February 2004.

The legal challenge brought by Fitzsimmons centres on claims that he is being subjected to unlawful strip-search demands.

It is also claimed his refusal to comply has resulted in him facing disciplinary procedures.

A legal challenge is also expected to be brought by another republican prisoner, Stephen O’Donnell, who is challenging the 23-hour a day lock-down.

His lawyers claim that as well as the one-hour recreation he is permitted, Mr O’Donnell should also have time for consultations to prepare his defence against arms charges.

Lawyer Ciaran Mulholland said: “Cases of this stature go to show that there are significant problems with the regime currently in place at Maghaberry.”

Meanwhile, a report by the prisoner ombudsman has made a series of recommendations on strip searches and other prisoner complaints at the notorious prison.

The ombudsman has made 16 separate recommendations including making sure every prisoner is offered a clean towel during full body searches and that the searches be done in a “respectful” manner. She recommended that punishment measures introduced by prison authorities following an Easter protest by the prisoners be ended.

Sinn Fein prisons spokesperson Raymond McCartney said the Ombudsman’s Report should be implemented immediately and would “assist and ensure that prisoners’ rights and dignity are protected at all times.”

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