Page last updated at 18:00 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Maghaberry dissident note 'planted' claim examined

Vincent Kearney
By Vincent Kearney
BBC NI home affairs correspondent

Cell at Maghaberry
A note with the governor's details was found in a cell

An investigation is to be launched into claims that prison staff planted a note with the details of the governor in the cell of a republican dissident suspect.

Maghaberry Governor Steve Rodford resigned two weeks ago because of fears that he was under threat.

It has been claimed that the note was planted by prison officers at the high security County Antrim jail opposed to reforms he was trying to introduce.

The Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe is to investigate the claim.

Mr Rodford came from a high security prison in England to take over as governor at Maghaberry - but quit after less than five months.

Security was one of the factors in his decision. His wife had left Northern Ireland weeks earlier because of concerns that they were being targeted by dissident republicans.

In September, a piece of toilet roll containing the governor's name and his car registration were found during a search of a cell occupied by Brendan McConville, who's charged with the murder of police officer Stephen Carroll in Craigavon in March.

Brendan McConville denies the murder of Constable Carroll
The note was found in the cell of Brendan McConville, charged with murdering Constable Carroll

The police questioned the republican about the handwritten note. He was not charged, but detectives are preparing a file to be sent to the Public Prosecution Service.

Last month, partly in response to the discovery of the note, Steve Rodford closed Maghaberry to visitors for four days to facilitate a huge search of the prison.

A lawyer for Brendan McConville has written to the Prisoner Ombudsman alleging that he was "set up" by staff opposed to changes and reforms being implemented by the new governor.

The letter of complaint from Belfast solicitor Kevin Winters says his client denied any connection with the note. The lawyer states that his client has volunteered to provide samples of his handwriting to police.

The letter says Brendan McConville makes the case quite simply that "there's no coincidence between the departure of Stephen Rodford from his post consequent upon the alleged 'finding' of the offending piece of toilet roll".

It also suggests that the note was planted in order to facilitate a "wider agenda within the prison".

Steve Rodford, former governor of Maghaberry Prison
Steve Rodford stepped down as governor after five months

The letter said a number of other inmates at Maghaberry will provide statements confirming evidence of "open hostility" by prison staff to Governor Rodford.

The Prisoner Ombudsman has confirmed she has received a formal complaint and will investigate it once the police investigation has been completed.

While I understand no individual member of staff has been questioned, there's no question there has been speculation since the discovery of the former's governor's details on a piece of paper inside a cell.

Some of the basic questions being asked are what use would the information be to anyone inside the prison if they were intending to do harm outside the jail, and why would they record such information on paper.

Of course, it could be that the discovery of the paper had exactly the designed effect, but it is important to stress that at this stage, this is simply speculation, an allegation and a lawyer defending his client.

In a statement, the Prison Officers Association said it did not accept that the note had been planted by one of its members, and insisted that they were not opposed to reforms being introduced at the jail.

It said that if Pauline McCabe's investigation reveals that a prison officer did plant the note, then that officer should face full disciplinary procedures and the association would be extremely disappointed in them.



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