The mother of republican prisoner Gavin Coyle has said she fears for his life after he has been held on his own in the punishment block at Maghaberry Prison for more than four years.
The mother-of-five said she feels her son has reached breaking point after being held on 23-hour lock up since his arrest in 2011.
Last week the 38-year-old was presented with new charges in connection with an IRA attack in 2008. His family said he now faces the prospect of another prolonged period in isolation if the case makes it to trial.
He is housed in the prison’s punishment block which is known as the Care and Supervision Unit by prison authorities and the ‘the boards’ by inmates.
During his time in prison Coyle has said MI5 have visited him in isolation several times in a bid to recruit him as an informer. It is understood prison authorities have refused to move him to Roe House, where republican prisoners are normally housed, claiming he is under threat.
However, republicans and Coyle’s family insist he is not under threat and have urged authorities to move him to the prison’s Roe Four wing which holds inmates aligned to the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA).
Decisions on where republican prisoners are housed are made by the British government’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO).
His mother Alice said her family became particularly concerned for his mental welfare after they received a distressing phone call from him last week.
“We were terrified,” she said. “We fear for his life.”
The 68-year-old described the conditions her son is being held in as a “disgrace.”
“You would not put a dog through what he has gone through,” she said. “He said he felt they were going to keep him there until he died, he was in tears and that’s the first time anybody saw him like that.”
It is understood the punishment unit at Maghaberry has been temporarily moved to Foyle House, which houses criminals. This has placed extra stress on Gavin because he is unable to use the exercise yard because of verbal abuse other prisoners whose landings overlook it.
A spokesman for the IRPWA said: “The fact is he is more than welcome on Roe House. There is a cell for him and we would call for him to be moved immediately.”