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Extra-tight security as Royal visitors take tour of former jail

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast.

Links to videos of Crumlin Royal visit included in story.

It may not have held a prisoner since 1996, but yesterday security was extra-tight at Crumlin Road jail.

The old decommissioned prison was the first of the Queen’s engagements for the day, and some of those accompanying her knew it from personal experience.

Both the First and Deputy First Ministers had been held in the facility during the Troubles, and walked with her on her roughly half-hour tour during the morning.

There was a heavy police presence in north Belfast, with officers on roofs, a helicopter circling, and armoured vans on the streets from Clifton Street to the prison – which stands near the loyalist Shankill area, but also not far from the dissident republican heartland of the Ardoyne.

The VIPs would not arrive until 10.45am, but Royal supporters had erected Union Flag placards opposite the prison from much earlier in the morning, and throngs of flag-waving onlookers gathered from around 9am to try and catch a glimpse of the VIPs.

Once they arrived inside the walls of the forbidding prison, which last executed a prisoner in 1961, they were greeted by former Olympian Dame Mary Peters plus Theresa Villiers, the Secretary 
of State.

They walked up the front steps and into the wings of the jail, where the sound of harp music contrasted with the models of prisoners glowering down at them from the balconies above.

Among the cells they passed in C Wing was a room where a dozen condemned prisoners had been hanged.

The Queen also met with lottery winner Peter Lavery, who has plans to open a small whiskey distillery inside one of the tiers of the old prison, while children from schools across north Belfast also formed part of the welcome party.

As a memento of her tour, the Queen was offered a posy, while her husband was given a bottle of 15-year-old Danny Boy Irish whiskey.

In the prison courtyard outside as the tour concluded, the Royal couple were waved off by local schoolchildren as their convoy of Land Rovers drove off with its police escort to the next engagement.

The symbolic visit happened after the Queen on Monday night held her first one to one meeting with Mr McGuinness – who has now met the monarch three times.

After they departed, Nigel Dodds, the DUP MP for North Belfast who had joined the Royal pair, said it was a “tremendous day” for north Belfast, noting that the region has suffered a number of “difficulties and challenges” over the past year.

“I think she enjoyed it,” he said. “She and the Duke of Edinburgh seemed to be greatly interested in getting the tour of the jail – she was very engaged... I hope she enjoys the rest of her visit as much as she’s enjoyed her visit to north Belfast.”

For videos on the Crumlin visit:

http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/regional/robinson-describes-his-own-time-spent-as-crumlin-prisoner-1-6139531

http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/regional/video-clip-queen-greeted-by-union-flags-in-her-north-belfast-prison-tour-1-6138620

 

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