Injured prison officer ‘a cross-community volunteer’

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Northern Ireland Prison Officer's Association Northern Ireland

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Northern Ireland Prison Officer's Association Northern Ireland

The prison officer injured in the bomb attack in east Belfast was “a perfect gentleman” who spends many hours in cross-community voluntary work, it has emerged.

Finlay Spratt of the Prison Officer’s Association said that he knows the victim, aged 52, personally.

He was not aware of any specific threats against the officer previously.

“I know him personally; he is considered a very good officer,” Mr Spratt said. “He does a lot of voluntary work across both sides of the community - he is a perfect gentleman.”

“I am delighted he is still alive although I don’t yet know the extent of his injuries.”

He added: “All right-thinking persons would condemn this attack.

“It was a despicable attack on a vulnerable prison officer who is living in the community. But this sort of attack is not going to change anything regarding the prison service.

“We live in the community and we are vulnerable to those warped people who want to do this sort of thing. They are just bringing misery on prison officers and their families.”

“We are well aware that the threat level has been increasing against all prison officers ever since David Black was murdered [in 2012] and before that.

“Prison officers never got the benefit of the ceasefires and the peace process because dissident republicans took over where the Provisional IRA left off.”

There are regular briefings on threat levels from the PSNI – the frequency of which varies, he said.

The defence against such attacks is to be vigilant and “check your security”.

He did not read any significance into the attack being in the strongly unionist area of east Belfast.

“My view is that prison officers are vulnerable anywhere.”

Asked what the solution is, he replied: “These people need to be put behind bars. This will only happen when the community out there fully supports the security forces and prison officers.

“There are people out there who know who was behind this but they are not prepared to come forward.”