Mick Clifford: Prison officers should protect each other, so what went wrong?

Some officers were alleged to have encouraged dangerous prisoners to think the worst of other officers to the point where these prisoners might have been moved to violence
Mick Clifford: Prison officers should protect each other, so what went wrong?

Freddie Thompson (pictured) told the investigator that one of the senior officers, in particular, was targeted in this manner to the extent that it “may put his life in danger if prisoners were to believe that he was lying and could not be believed”.

Exercising a duty of care and security to some of the most dangerous prisoners in the state is a task that can bring exceptional stress. 

These individuals, nearly all incarcerated for violent crimes, including murder, are often unstable and easily given to violence. So being detailed to work in close proximity to such prisoners would require a certain esprit de corps, whereby staff rely heavily on each other, or, to put it plainly, have each other’s backs.

But instead of having each other’s backs, some staff members in Portlaoise Prison were alleged to have encouraged dangerous prisoners to think the worst of other officers to the point where these prisoners might have been moved to violence. 

As reported today, a file is currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) following a garda investigation into whether the action of some prison officers towards others reached a criminal threshold.

The basic facts of the case have already been investigated by an internal investigator, John Naughton. He investigated the matter as a result of a complaint from inmate Freddie Thompson, who is closely associated with the Kinahan organised crime group and serving a life sentence for murder.

Portlaoise Prison's A block

Naughton found that three senior officers, who were attempting to instigate reform in the prison’s A block, were resisted by three junior officers. The latter three then told a number of prisoners that the senior officers were not to be trusted. 

Thompson told the investigator that one of the senior officers, in particular, was targeted in this manner to the extent that it “may put his life in danger if prisoners were to believe that he was lying and could not be believed”. 

Another prisoner, who is also serving a life sentence for a gangland murder, confronted this senior officer and told him he was “a piece of shit” and that he, the prisoner, would never trust him again, according to a statement from one of the senior officers. 

The senior officer says he was told that “this prisoner came very close to doing me — assaulting me". 

The senior officer had previously dealt with this prisoner and “had built up a rapport with him”. Now, quite obviously, this prisoner had a totally different impression of him.

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

He concluded: “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 result was a shocking indictment of the culture on A block. Despite that, no disciplinary action was taken against the three junior officers. Instead, two of the three senior officers have been out with “work-related injury” since. 

Report's delay

In addition, the Irish Prison Service delayed issuing the Naughton report. 

A separate investigation by the Mazaar’s group, on foot of a protected disclosure, has found that one of the senior officer’s “health and safety in the workplace was severely compromised” as a result of the delay. 

Despite the findings of these two separate investigations, the only people who have apparently suffered are the senior officers who were targeted. 

The DPP must now determine whether there is a basis for criminal charges in relation to the activities of the junior officers.

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