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Tuesday, December 30, 1997 Published at 12:06 GMT


Maze inquiry useless - Trimble
image: [ The top-security Maze prison in Northern Ireland ]
The top-security Maze prison in Northern Ireland

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, says the Government's response to the security crisis at the Maze prison is "wholly inadequate".

The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam has ordered an inquiry into the running of the province's top security jail after a loyalist paramilitary prisoner, Billy Wright, was shot dead there on Saturday.

The killing came just weeks after IRA member Liam Averill escaped from the prison by disguising himself as a woman.

Independence questioned

Mr Trimble told the BBC he did not believe the investigation, to be headed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales General, Sir David Ramsbotham, could be "independent", as ministers claim.

[ image: David Trimble: Problems stem from policy-makers, not  prison staff]
David Trimble: Problems stem from policy-makers, not prison staff
He added that the focus of the inquiry was wrong. "The lax regime in the Maze is not just an operational matter," he said.

"We believe it's a matter of policy, that the policy was directed from the Northern Ireland Office, that because the prisoners are alleged to be significant in terms of the decision-making of the Republicans, that everything must be done to make the Republican prisoners feel happy, and that the security just simply became non-existent.

"And (we believe) that this was a result of policy directed by the Secretary of State. That's what we want to see investigated."

Authorities defended

However, the Conservative former Northern Ireland Security Minister Sir John Wheeler defended the authorities' record. He told the BBC the Maze was "the most vigorously inspected prison by outside interests".

"The prisoners are part of the political talks process in this sense, that those who represent them in the talks process - the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein or the loyalist groups - are constantly demanding changed and improved conditions for them," he added.

"It's against that backdrop that this prison, the Maze, has to operate. It's a very difficult institution to manage."

Meanwhile members of the loyalist Ulster Democratic Party are to meet Maze inmates who are members of the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force - both loyalist paramilitary groups - to discuss their continued participation in the peace talks.

Random searches are also to be introduced at the jail.

Security has been stepped up in Northern Ireland in preparation for the funerals of Wright and a former republican prisoner killed in a reprisal attack.

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