Book on Maze is a fresh challenge to narrative of brutality

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

A new book being launched tomorrow on the Maze prison looks set to be an interesting read.

Tom Murtagh was once a deputy governor at the high-security prison between Lisburn and Moira.

He has described as “unprecedented and indefensible” secret deals between government officials and inmates when the Troubles were still ongoing.

Concession after concession led to terrorists having ‘special category’ status in all but name, with what he says were disastrous consequences for proper security.

On one level, there is nothing surprising about this picture of the Maze that Mr Murtagh paints.

The memorable BBC documentary on The Maze by Peter Taylor in 1991 very much gave the impression that the prisoners had an agreed and comfortable relationship with the prison officers, 10 years after the hunger strikes (which were launched in a bid to let the world think that the IRA was being treated behind bars).

One officer in that documentary explained on camera how he and his colleagues knew not to let the terrorists think that they were difficult or harsh officers, in case they would find a bomb under their car.

Prisoners were filmed liaising with officers to ensure that prison meals were to the standard expected by the inmates.

When Mr Murtagh’s claims are apparent in full after the publication of the book, it will be time again to debate whether or not the government was right to take such a lenient approach to the prisoners.

But whether it was or it wasn’t, it is yet another part of our legacy that disproves the narrative of British brutality. On the whole terrorists were treated softly by the security forces during the Troubles, or certainly after the early 1970s when the authorities knew the importance of not giving any opportunities to the propagandists.