Prison authorities target families

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Prisoner support groups have accused the Maghaberry administration of again targeting the families of republican political prisoners.

Cogus said a visit by the grandparents of one prisoner was stopped because of the behaviour of the jail’s sniffer dog.

Connor Hughes’s grandparents, who are aged seventy-five and seventy-six, were refused entry to visit him because the dog sat down on them as they were going through the routine search procedures prior to the visit.

Prison warders told the elderly couple that this indicated that they had come into contact with ‘contraband’ (drugs or other substances).

“They where given two options, either take a closed visit or not to see Connor at all,” Cogus said. “Distraught and confused they chose a closed [glass-partitioned] visit unaware of the PoWs long standing policy regarding not attending closed visits.

“Connor was made aware of this while waiting in the visits area and told the screws that neither he or his grandparents would be attending the closed visit.”

Mr Hughes asked why the jail administration had not shown some understanding as both where elderly and would have not been in contact with drugs or other ‘contraband’.

“Unfortunately both of his grandparents are deeply distressed as a result of this incident,” Cogus said.

“In the past there have been numerous cases of PoWs families being refused visits of ‘drug dogs’, whose behaviour is clearly dictated by their screw handler at the tug of a lead.

“Cogus are in no doubt that the absurd allegation of being in contact with illicit substances is unfounded. Unfortunately the behaviour of the jail administration as seen in the past and confirmed in the present, that neither the young children nor the elderly are on the outside of their sphere of targeting.”

Another prisoner support group, the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association, said the father of one republican prisoner had been refused transfer to the same wing as his son at Maghaberry -- before being transferred to a different prison entirely.

Shane Stevenson’s father, Laurence, was being held at Maghaberry in regard to a number of charges which the IRPWA said he had accumulated “due to constant British Crown Force harassment”.

He applied to be transferred to Roe 4 alongside his son, but instead was transferred to Magilligan, 73 miles away.

“The families’ only contact with him was on visits and it quickly transpired that he was in a bad way as they were withholding his much needed heart medication and refusing to bring his meals to his cell,” the IRPWA said.

“Concerned family members contacted his solicitor and a legal was arranged to check on his well-being.

“Family members arrived for a visit to be told that Laurence wasn’t in Maghaberry but had been transferred to Magilligan. No prior notice had been given to family members nor his solicitor who had been due to see him.”

The IRPWA condemned the transfer which now sees the family having to split themselves between two prisons to visit their family members.

“Laurence would not be in jail were it not for the persistent house raids and stop and searches carried out by the British Crown Forces and the petty charges he accumulated,” they said.

“Your right to family life does not stop when you are incarcerated, and Laurence should have been housed, if only for a short while, with his son on the republican landing, especially considering his poor health and complex medical needs.”

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