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1974: Maze prison goes up in flames

Three prison staff are being treated in hospital after rioting prisoners set fire to the Long Kesh Maze prison near Belfast.

More than 130 prisoners were injured in the trouble - nine needed hospital treatment. One officer is being treated for a suspected fractured skull.

Troops were brought in to quell the violence but much of the camp, which houses 1500 convicted prisoners and internees, has been destroyed.

Overnight, flames were visible along the whole length of the camp from a distance of several miles.

Violence broke out when prison officers were attacked by inmates in a republican compound yesterday at around 1800GMT.

Governor of the Maze, Robert Truesdale, said the army unit controlling the outside perimeter was sent in as soon as fighting broke out.

Reports say republican inmates set fire to their living quarters as troops were called in. Loyalist prisoners are also said to have been involved although this has not been confirmed.

The fire is understood to have started in compound 13 which then spread to at least 20 or 30 other compounds.

Witnesses described how helicopters and army lorries brought in more troop reinforcements to take back control of the prison.

Other helicopters hovered over neighbouring fields and lanes to prevent any breakouts.

Police say fire engines were obstructed from entering because of the ferocity of the rioting inside.

Earlier today the authorities claimed to have regained control of the camp and were restoring order after almost a whole night of rioting.

Extent of damage

Damage to the prison is substantial with a number of prison buildings and most of the prisoners' living huts completely destroyed.

No explanation has yet been provided for the riots, but both loyalist and republican inmates had recently been protesting over living conditions.

During the night, news of the fighting spread to communities in Belfast. Catholic crowds appeared on the streets in the Ardoyne and Ballymacarrett districts and several hundred uniformed UDA men marched in protestant Ballygomartin.

Northern Ireland Secretary Merlyn Rees has made a statement seeking to dispel rumours that prisoners had been killed, and condemned those seeking to "foment disorder" in the streets with false allegations.

In Context
The riots spread that day to other prisons in Belfast. Women prisoners held the governor of Armagh Prison hostage.

At the Maze, four guard dogs were burned to death. Many buildings including the prison hospital and a new kitchen facility were destroyed.

In 1971, the government introduced a law to allow people to be interned without charge. This led to hundreds of young men from nationalist areas being held in huts at Long Kesh, on the site of what became the H-block wing of the Maze prison.

The policy was later abandoned after the government realised that they were very often holding the wrong people. They instead began trying members of paramilitary organisations for violent offences, saying their actions were criminal, not political. The Maze's H-Block wings were built to house the paramilitary prisoners.

The prisoners played a crucial role in the peace process. Republican and loyalist parties linked to paramilitaries regarded the release of prisoners as a key part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The Maze closed in September 2000 after all the prisoners had been released under the deal.


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