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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 June, 2003, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Roof-top prison protest over
Prisoners on roof of Maghaberry Jail
The roof-top protest was over cell space
The roof-top protest over cell space at the high-security Maghaberry jail in Northern Ireland has ended.

Eight prisoners climbed onto the roof at about 1900 BST on Friday and it was late on Saturday afternoon before they eventually came down, having stayed there overnight.

It is believed their protest was about having to share cells, but the Northern Ireland Office said four of the protesters were already detained in single cells.

An NIO spokeswoman said the protesters were a mix of republican, loyalist and non-paramilitary inmates at the County Antrim prison.

We will have to look at how the prisoners gained access to the roof and others aspects of the incident to see what lessons we can learn
Peter Russell
Prison Service

Prison visits were suspended on Saturday as a result of the protest, and discussions took place between staff and inmates to try to resolve the matter.

The eight prisoners who had been on the roof of the Roe House wing came down peacefully, the Prison Service said.

The Director General of the Prison Service, Peter Russell, paid tribute to the way staff dealt with the protest.

"I want to congratulate the governor of Maghaberry and his staff for the quiet professionalism they have shown in bringing this incident to a peaceful conclusion without injuries or substantial damage to property," he said.

"Clearly, we will have to look at how the prisoners gained access to the roof and other aspects of the incident to see what lessons we can learn."

'Inhumane' conditions

At about the time the protest started, Army technical officers were called to the jail to deal with a suspect bomb which turned out to be a hoax.

Investigations into the suspicious object meant a group of 15 prisoners in the exercise yard were cut off from the main building for a time, but subsequently returned to their cells.

Maghaberry jail
Prison visits were suspended

Finlay Spratt, of the Prison Officers Association, said they had warned the Northern Ireland Office two weeks ago such a protest could happen if the prison intake increased.

"We, as prison officers who have quite an experience of dealing with prisoners in the Northern Ireland Prison Service have been continually saying to management that their policy of doubling these prisoners up is actually going to lead to what is happening.

"We have warned them repeatedly but they chose to ignore our advice."

About 30 people waving loyalist flags gathered outside the prison but the crowd dispersed before midnight on Friday.

Frankie Gallagher of the Ulster Political Research Group, which has links with the Ulster Defence Association, spoke of growing tensions recently within the prison.

"The conditions inside the prison for the prisoners, regardless of their backgrounds, are close to inhumane," he claimed.

"It would appear that the prisoners are caught up in difficulties between the management and staff of the Prison Service and that is impacting on prisoners' rights, their families and visits."




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Noreen Erskine reports
"It is believed they are protesting about having to share cells"



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