Michael Clifford: A whole different kind of craziness unfolding in Portlaoise Prison

Michael Clifford: A whole different kind of craziness unfolding in Portlaoise Prison

Freddie Thompson, a criminal closely associated with the Kinahan crime cartel, has made a second complaint about a junior prison officer who has already been found to have put colleagues lives’ in danger.  Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Crazy things happen in prisons. It’s the nature of the institution. 

But a whole different kind of craziness is now unfolding in Portlaoise Prison, centred on the block that houses some of the most notorious criminals in the state.

Effectively, a convicted murderer is holding the prison service to account for not protecting its own officers.

Freddie Thompson, a criminal closely associated with the Kinahan crime cartel, has made a second complaint about a basic grade prison officer who has already been found to have put colleagues lives’ in danger. 

In May 2019, Thompson first complained about this officer and two others for disparaging three more senior officers in front of prisoners. 

The basic grade officers were telling prisoners of their colleagues that one was “a fucking idiot” and that they will “tell you they will do something and then not do it, (they are) persons not to be believed,” according to Thompsons’s complaint, first reported on in the Irish Examiner last September.

One of the senior officers, identified in the Dáil as Tom, was a particular target, according to Thompson. 

The basic grade officers targeting him “may put his life in danger if prisoners were to believe that he was lying and could not be believed.” 

Questions naturally arise as to the trustworthiness and motivation of a prisoner like Thompson making these allegations. 

But there is sufficient evidence, apart from his, of the kind of dangerous bullying culture which he was referencing. 

Eight months before Thompson’s complaint, another prisoner had approached the governor of the prison over the same issue. 

He was told to put it in writing but he declined.

One of the senior officers who was targeted told a subsequent investigation that when he started on the block in June 2018 one of the basic grade officers told him soon after his arrival: “We do not like you, we did not send for you, we do not want you, you won’t be staying. We will run you out of A Block.” 

The basic grade officer denied these comments.

There was also evidence that reforms the senior officers and the governor wanted to introduce on the block were stridently opposed by the basic grade officers.

Thompson’s complaint was examined by external investigator John Naughton.

He is a veteran of these kind of investigations and completed his task in November 2019. 

He found that it was “undeniable that some officers were making comments to deliberately try to undermine the work” of one of the senior officers.

In conclusion, the investigator stated: 

 “Based on my review of all the evidence gathered, and taking into account the statements of the complainant, witnesses and prison personnel, documentary evidence of the issues involved, I am of the opinion that there are grounds for the complaint.” 

The findings were a damning indictment of the culture in the prison. 

What followed was bizarre. Instead of forwarding the findings to the prison governor for action, the report was retained in Irish Prison Service (IPS) headquarters in Longford for seven months. 

Then, when finally handed to the governor, he enlisted a colleague to determine the outcome. That colleague decided on an effective slap on the wrist for the three basic grade officers. 

One of the reasons for this leniency was the “passage of time”, which was largely attributable to headquarters holding onto the report.

Two of the senior officers targeted are now out on sick leave, one of them since last summer. Both have initiated legal actions based on their experience. There was a rude awakening for anybody in the prison service hoping this matter had been filed away for history. 

There was a rude awakening for anybody in the prison service hoping this matter had been filed away for history. 

Aontu TD Peadar Tobin raised the issue in the Dáil last month, stating that he was doing so reluctantly on behalf of the senior officer “Tom” because the prison service would not engage with him on the matter.

Now, Thompson has complained again because he is being forced to deal with one of the basic grade officers who was found to have been disparaging his senior colleague. 

The most immediate question is why that officer is still on the block.

But the case also once again raises questions about the culture in Portlaoise Prison. 

The Irish Examiner has previously reported on a walk-out of officers on A Block in 2018, which did not result in any sanction. 

Instead, then campus governor Ethel Gavin was demoted and two of her colleagues transferred.

None of those managers faced any disciplinary action about the event yet appeared to have suffered professionally. 

Gavin, who was highly rated within the prison service, took early retirement last year. 

Sources in the prison attribute her departure to how she was treated over the walk-out.

The Irish Examiner understands the Inspector of Prisons has been informed of the latest complaint. 

It remains to be seen whether the inspector’s office will attempt to shine a light into a dark corner of the penal system.

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