Concern that jail scanners may be republican prisoner concession

A general views of H.M. Prison, Maghaberry
A general views of H.M. Prison, Maghaberry

TUV leader Jim Allister has questioned whether the introduction of scanners into Northern Irish prisons is a concession to republican prisoners.

He was speaking after it was revealed that Northern Ireland’s Prison Service has applied for permission to use body scanners as part of a crackdown on smuggling.

The technology is designed to combat the trafficking of banned items into jails.

Dissident republicans have long protested against the strip-searching of inmates.

Mr Allister said: “If these changes will help improve the detection rate when it comes to combatting the drugs problem in our prisons they are to be welcomed.

“However, if this is about conceding to the demands of republican prisoners to stop strip-searches I would be deeply concerned.

“We will need to have complete clarity from HM’s Prison Service about the rationale behind these changes and indeed the cost to the public purse.”

Mr Allister added that “there can be no compromises when it comes to efforts to combat the entry of elicit substances and even weapons to our prisons.”

At one stage a solicitor had said Maghaberry Prison was “awash with drugs”.

During 2014, there were 224 drug finds at the high security institution.

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change is considering whether to give x-ray imaging the go-ahead, Stormont’s justice department said.

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), said: “If they come up with something that replaces strip-searching we would be delighted.”

He added: “If they can protect the security of the prison and reduce the need for prison officers to be involved in what people would call degrading treatment, it is also degrading for prison officers, if they can come up with a body scanner that reduces that we would fully support that, we do not want to be involved in that.”

A form of scanning was trialled at Magilligan Prison in County Londonderry in 2012 but later rejected as ineffective. Full body scanners are already in use in some airports.

The Department of Justice said: “NIPS (Northern Ireland Prison Service) have, as required by the legislation governing the use of ionising radiation for non-medical purposes, submitted a justification application.

“NOMS (National Offender Management Service) are currently going through the justification process in regards to the use of ionising radiation.

“They are submitting a report to the Department of Energy and Climate Change to ask for permission to use transmission x-ray scanners.

“There will be no further progress until this process is completed.”

The POA had recently spoken out about the tough conditions which are faced by prison officers.

And on Thursday, during an appearance before a Stormont scrutiny committee, Mr Spratt told MLAs: “The prison service, as far as we are concerned, at the minute is a disaster.”

Just two officers are charged with overseeing 50 male inmates, the committee heard.


In June Belfast High Court heard claims that a prisoner was subjected to degrading treatment by having his strip search filmed.

Lawyers claimed a policy to record the process on video and retain footage for up to six years violated his right to privacy.

In October 2014 the republican prisoner was subjected to a full search by force after refusing to give his consent.

The court heard a video camera was used to record the events.

In 2013 the Prison Officers’ Association said strip searching in prisons was necessary for the safety of both inmates and staff.

POA chairman Finlay Spratt had been commenting following the publication of a critical report compiled by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI).

Mr Spratt said: “It is a procedure we have to go through because there is no other alternative.”