Prison officers suspended from Antrim jail

Sixteen prison officers have been suspended from duty in the North's top-security Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim, it was announced today.

The suspensions came within the last 24 hours and amid an ongoing investigation into the death of an inmate in his cell in August.

But the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) said none of the suspensions were directly linked to the death and some of those suspended had not been on duty on the night the inmate died.

Another officer was suspended and charged with gross misconduct soon after the death.

A NIPS spokesman said all of the newly-suspended warders will face charges.

The Prison Service recently announced the initiation of an internal investigation into its night guard arrangements at the prison following both management concerns and preliminary findings from the Prisoner Ombudsman arising from her investigation into the death in custody of Colin Bell on August 1.

A statement said today: "Arising from the preliminary findings of the internal investigation, a further 16 night custody officers have been suspended from duty in accordance with Prison Service disciplinary procedures. This investigation remains ongoing."

It added: "Meanwhile, the separate Prisoner Ombudsman's investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death in custody of Colin Bell is continuing."

Night custody officers are a new grade of prison staff introduced by the NIPS last year.

Colin Bell, 34, was found dead in his cell at the Co Antrim jail in the early hours of the morning – it is understood he hanged himself.

He was classed as a vulnerable prisoner who should have been kept under closer observation than normal.

Bell was jailed for life in 2004 after pleading guilty to murdering a man who died in a fire he started at a house in Bangor, Co Down.

He set fire to the premises to cover his tracks after a break-in while on a drink-and-drug binge celebrating his release from prison.

The chairman of the Prison Officers' Association in the North said he had no idea yet what charges his members would face.

Finlay, Spratt said: "It is an ongoing investigation and I can make no comment at the moment.

"The POA's job will be to defend these officers when we know what the charges are against them."


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