The British prison authorities at Maghaberry have been accused of “laying down a marker” by abusing new body scanners intended to replace strip searches.
Less than two months since the new body scanners were announced, two republican prisoners were put through one as they were due to appear in court.
While sitting in the van waiting to leave the jail compound, prison warders rushed in and grabbed one of them before stating “you failed the scanner”. There was no explanation of what was shown on the scanner or where on the body so-called ‘alien material’ was supposedly stored.
The prisoner was taken to a punishment block where he commenced a protest. He was subsequently taken out and rescanned successfully, but he never made it to his court appointment.
A third prisoner who was taken ill failed a scan on his return from hospital. As a result, he was ordered to be brought an isolation unit but resisted and subsequently passed a second scan.
The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association demanded to know why the outcome of the scans were not shown to the prisoners.
“We believe this stems from the security governor in Maghaberry stating to Republican Prisoners that the new scanner would not be doing away with, or replacing, strip searching,” they said.
“We also believe this was an abuse of the new scanner, with this scenario being a death nail in the coffin of a conflict-free environment within the gaol.”
The IRPWA and the prisoners said they are concerned as to where this may lead.
The prisoners “took the scanner on face value and have shown their willingness to engage maturely to gain a conflict free environment with in the gaol,” they said, but the same “cannot be said” for the prison authorities.
They added: “If the regime think this will be another tool to break the prisoners they are mistaken. The MI5 regime is trying to create conflict within the jail – of that we have no doubt.
“We would urge all human rights organisations and the independent facilitators to urgently highlight these issues.”