Four prison officers are being investigated after three of them “went on the beer” during the escort of a dangerous gangland criminal to and from court.
The incident, which occurred earlier this month, involved the escort of a prisoner involved in gangland crime from Portlaoise Prison to the Criminal Courts of Justice building in Dublin. According to multiple sources, three of the officers spent a portion of the day in Dublin drinking alcohol and all were unfit to drive the prison van back to Portlaoise that evening.
As a result, the fourth, who was the senior officer, had to drive the vehicle. As the person in charge of the escort, the senior officer should not have been driving.
En route to Portlaoise, some of the officers insisted on stopping to visit the toilet but the senior officer refused to do so. Stopping in this manner during the escort of a prisoner is strictly against the rules of prisoner escort in the service.
Following further conversation in which one of the officers is alleged to have threatened to relieve himself in the van, the senior officer agreed and the van stopped at the popular motorway services at Junction 14, south of Kildare town.
The three officers went inside the services building to use the facilities while the senior officer was cuffed to the prisoner. According to some reports, the three also ate at a fast food outlet inside the services building during this time. Following that, the prison van proceeded back to Portlaoise Prison.
The incident came to the notice of management soon afterwards because some of the officers were understood to have displayed signs of alcohol intake when they re-entered the prison. The three were reported to have gone on sick leave soon after but the investigation into their conduct is continuing.
The senior officer is also being investigated owing to the decision to proceed back to Portlaoise rather than call for assistance.
“The lads are in serious trouble,” according to one source.
The source added that sympathy has been expressed among officers for the plight of the senior officer. The prisoner at the centre of the escort received a long prison sentence on the day for gangland-related crime.
It is unclear whether or not he has been interviewed over the incident. The decision to have him escorted by three officers and a senior officer is an indication of how dangerous he was considered within the prison service.
Normally, an escort would consist of two officers. Detailing four officers to a prisoner indicates a seriousness just below an armed escort which would include two armed detectives in convoy with the prison van. An armed escort would usually be reserved for the main gangland figures in the country or subversives who were considered extremely dangerous.
The investigation into the incident includes viewing CCTV footage of the arrival of the officers in the screening area where all personnel are searched on entry to the prison. Theunderstands that efforts have also been made by the prison authorities to gain access to CCTV footage in the Criminal Courts of Justice building on the day in question.
Sources in the prison service say that it is not unknown for an officer to “have a pint” during escort duty, but while such an occurrence was commonplace in years gone by it is relatively rare these days. However, different sources have expressed surprise at the series of events, including the apparent incapacity of the three officers to drive the prison van and the decision to stop on the journey back to the prison.
A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said the service does not comment on internal staff or disciplinary matters.