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New prison governor leaves post

5 December 09 12:57 GMT

The new governor of Northern Ireland's high security jail is to leave his post after only five months in the job.

Steve Rodford was appointed as governor of Maghaberry prison in July to implement an "urgently needed change programme" at the jail.

His appointment came in the wake of criticism of prison staff following the death of an inmate who was supposed to be on suicide watch.

Mr Rodford was said to be moving on "for personal and domestic reasons".

The director of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Robin Masefield said Mr Rodford's departure was "somewhat earlier than scheduled".

Death in custody

Mr Rodford took charge as governor the day before a team of inspectors described Maghaberry has one of the worst and most expensive prisons in the United Kingdom.

Five weeks later, another "vulnerable" prisoner took his own life in the healthcare wing of Maghaberry.

Four health workers were suspended after the death of convicted sex offender John Anthony Deery, whose suicide is now the subject of an investigation by the Prison Ombudsman.

During his short tenure, the governor also ordered the first major search of Maghaberry in more than 10 years.

The search uncovered items which could have been used to make a bomb buried near the jail's perimeter wall.

The operation, which led to all prison visits being cancelled for 48 hours, came just over two weeks after traces of a component used in Semtex explosives were found in the cells of republican prisoners in the jail.

Mr Rodford was appointed as governor, on a secondment basis, following "an accelerated selection process" in the summer.

Departure regretted

It followed a review which said a new senior management team - led by a governor from outside Northern Ireland - should be appointed "immediately".

Mr Masefield said he "regretted Steve Rodford's departure at this stage" but has paid tribute to the "very substantial progress made at Maghaberry prison since the summer", under the governor's leadership.

"In particular, progress has been made in the key areas of developing a culture of care and accountability, and improving performance and delivery," said Mr Masefield.

He added that Mr Rodford's time as governor demonstrated "the benefits of expertise from outside the Northern Ireland Prison Service working alongside managers and staff in Maghaberry".

Mr Rodford will take up an appointment at the headquarters of Her Majesty's Prison Service in London early in the new year.

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