‘Utmost security’ needed for prison officers

First Minister Peter Robinson
First Minister Peter Robinson

THE utmost security must be given to prison officers to try and prevent a repeat of the death of David Black, Northern Ireland’s First Minister has said.

Mr Black was gunned down at high speed on the M1 motorway on his way to work at the top security Maghaberry prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim, last Thursday.

Peter Robinson said: “I am happy to coordinate a meeting to ensure we have the means at our disposal to ensure that the utmost security is given to prison officers as they go forward.”

Gunmen travelling in a stolen car fired on the 52-year-old’s Audi car near a junction leading to Portadown, Co Armagh, as he was on his way to work at Maghaberry. The car careered off the road and into a ditch.

The married father-of-two was the first prison officer to die at the hands of paramilitaries since 1993.

His family appealed for no more violence in a statement issued through a clergyman in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, where the Black family live.

Mr Robinson told members of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont that he endorsed calls from others asking for greater security to be given to prison officers. Prison Officers’ Association chairman Finlay Spratt has expressed anger over the threat.

Director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Sue McAllister has said that, to her knowledge, no prison officer has been told that his or her personal protection weapon is to be withdrawn.

Mr Robinson endorsed calls for greater security measures for prison officers and said existing provision should be brought up to date to ensure it worked properly.

Assembly members stood for a minute’s silence in respect for the victim.

Justice Minister David Ford said the killing was a tragedy for Mr Black’s family.

“It was a crime of the worst sort, the murder of an innocent man, cold-blooded, utterly ruthless, a defenceless man going to his work, a man who served this community well and with dedication and courage as a prison officer,” he said.

He claimed those who carried out the shooting were more wedded to the struggle than any possible cause.

“The past is the past and we are building for the future and the response to this murder must surely make clear to them how utterly out of touch they are,” he said.

Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane said it was a pointless death, resolving nothing and leaving a family plunged into grief.

“It is patently obvious that the peace process will not be derailed by killings like this. It has not in the past and it won’t in the future,” she said.

“That is the reality behind these actions, people need to realise that these actions are absolutely pointless.”

The Ulster Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party and independents also condemned the killing.

On Tuesday Cookstown will come to a standstill for a funeral which is expected to attract hundreds if not thousands of mourners.

The service will be conducted by the minister of Molesworth Presbyterian Church, Rev Tom Greer. Also taking part will be the Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, Dr Roy Patton, prison chaplain Rev Rodney Cameron and Mr Black’s children Kyle and Kyra. The funeral address will be given by Rev Greer.

Before the church service there will be a private family service at Mr Black’s home.

Following the service, which should last about an hour, the funeral cortege will travel to Kildress Parish churchyard for a private burial.

It is understood Deputy First Minister and Mid Ulster MLA Martin McGuinness offered to attend the funeral but this was declined.