April 2005, I had the misfortune of finding myself
incarcerated in Maghabery Prison. I had been arrested
by the British Security Services on the Moy Road
in Armagh for possession of items contrary to the
Terrorism Act 2000. These items consisted of a 2
way radio base station which was affixed in my vehicle
and a radio scanning device which was lying on the
floor of my vehicle. The fact that neither of these
items are illegal to possess in Northern Ireland
except in a very narrow sense when it can be proved
that they are to be utilised for Terrorist Offences
, did not stop my arrest or my subsequent charging
with terrorist offences and incarceration.
I feel I should point out at this stage that the
two way radio is legally mine and I use it in connection
with my employment, the scanner was a friends and
I was in possession of it to have it repaired. My
friend gave it to me because it would no longer
charge and I had a supplier that repaired radio
equipment. I explained this to the arresting officer
and he even tried to turn it on to no avail. I was
held at roadside for several hours before word came
down from some body with a higher pay grade to arrest
me. I was then taken to Antrim holding centre where
I was interrogated for several days.
They said that the scanner worked, all that needed
to be done was to charge it, and I said it did not
because it was not charged. We have since discovered
that the fault was the charger plug for the scanner.
I explained what I worked at and why I had both
items. My solicitor wanted to know what was going
on, was I sure there would be no surveillance records
that would be sprung on us. I said no, he then said
that he could not understand what was going on but
not to worry I would not be charged. His face the
following Friday night at 23:30 when they announced
they were charging me was a sight, I ended up consoling
him. Needless to say I was whipped off to court
on the Saturday and then straight to hotel Maghabery.
I believe my detention to have been illegal; the
one item I was charged with being in possession
of was the radio scanner contrary to the terrorism
act 2000. The possession of the scanner is illegal
if it is believed that it is to be used to assist
or commit terrorist acts. The scanner I was in possession
of did not work; this was checked at the roadside
by a ruc man. If the scanner did not work, how was
I planning to use it as an implement of terror?
Perhaps they felt it was likely that I was going
to storm nearby Gough Barracks using it as a blunt
Furthermore a detective lied in Bann bridge court
on the Saturday morning and said that not only did
the scanner work but I had the means to charge the
scanner in my vehicle. Upon further questioning
by my erstwhile solicitor, he had to back pedal
and told the court that the forensic analysis was
that the scanner would work if it was charged but
at the time of my arrest the scanner was in fact
inoperable. This of course made no difference to
the judge, I was off to Maghabery no matter that
one of the crowns finest had perjured himself. Since
the charges were dropped against me I never did
find out what means I had to charge the scanner.
Perhaps it was two paper clips and a length of baling
twine A Team style.
Upon arrival I was sent to Roe House which is the
first place every prisoner ends up at. On Roe 1
& 2 prisoners are acclimatised before moving
onto permanent Houses of residence. For a total
of six days between the Antrim holding Centre and
the first few days in Maghabery I was held incommunicado.
The only outside contact I had was with my solicitor.
I was only allowed to speak to my wife on the Tuesday
following my arrest. It would not be over dramatic
to say I was doing my nut. I was worried for my
wife and children and they were terrified for me.
Messages passed through Solicitors and a Priest
do not nearly come close to hearing the consoling
words said in the voice of a loved one.
After discussing the situation with my wife, I asked
for the segregated unit, a british euphemism for
the Republican Wing. I was informed that the regime
on the segregated wing was a lot harsher and that
I should rethink my decision not to go on general.
I persisted and was eventually moved over there.
It was only when I arrived on Roe 3 that I realised
how stressed I had been, during my time in Roe 1
& 2 I had a run in with the infamous Jim Gray.
He became a rather pleasant individual when he realised
that I had a co-accused that was bigger than I am.
I am a short but rather powerfully wide individual;
my co-accused was a tall but rather powerfully wide
individual. When I arrived on the Republican Wing
I was greeted by several people, they made time
to explain the system and regime, to ensure I had
tobacco, biscuits and above all coffee, oh sweet,
The welcome and generosity of these men was fantastic,
I was put at my ease, made to feel safe, I was now
among friends. The regime is hard on the Republican
Wing in Maghabery, you alternate between 22 and
20 hour lock ups, on a good day you will get 2 hours
exercise in the morning and the evening, on a bad
day you will get 2 hours exercise in the afternoon
only. You are secured in the rec room with access
to the cage at these times; this is the only time
that you are allowed anything close to free association.
There are for all intensive purposes no opportunities
for education, and like wise for craft work. You
are allowed some cell association on some days;
this is where any thing up to three prisoners are
locked in one cell for a couple of hours to converse.
I availed of these when I could, in order to keep
At meal times you are called from your cells three
at a time to a hot food cart at the top of the landing
to retrieve your food, make your mug of tea, grab
your bread and practically sprint back to your cell
to eat it. All foods are eaten while you are locked
in your cell, right where your toilet is, nothing
like it for convenience, the food was generally
that bad that you often could just cut out the middle
bit and scrape it off the plate into the toilet.
I even thought about getting one of my bedrooms
converted upon my release. The sprint back to your
cell was not for the benefit of the Gaolers but
for the benefit of your fellow prisoners, because
only three prisoners where allowed out at a time
by the time the last few received their food it
would not only be un-edible, (it nearly always was),
but cold as well.
The search regime is ridiculous, on my way to a
legal visit, (a visit with my solicitor), I could
be searched 7 times sometimes twice within twenty
feet. Where and what exactly did they think I was
going to get whatever they were searching me for.
Then you have the cell searches, up to 20 gaolers
in combat uniforms and a dog arrive in your cell,
you get pushed around a bit and they upturn everything.
The dog gets to lie in your bed, roll in your clothes
and generally have a good sniff around. I tell you
I was glad that somebody looked comfortable on the
bed because the two inch thick mattress was crucifying
me. Again, what they were searching for and where
they were searching was ridiculous. I mean I could
hardly hide anything in my bare cell; it was not
like I could put it behind the piano in the corner.
No Republican in Maghabery has ever been found in
possession of drugs, while these searches went on
in the Republican Wing constantly, the rest of the
gaol was rife with drugs. It is an element of a
regime that is designed to break the spirit of men.
Most of the gaolers just did there job, but some
of them took great delight in the small things to
make your life harder. Every hour on the hour at
night the gaolers have to check you are in your
cell. They open the flap in the door and shine in
a torch, one of the more spiteful and inventive
gaolers delighted in banging the door a couple of
times to wake you up every hour on the hour. I sleep
like something dead, the prisoner next door to me
told me one morning that the idiot had spent five
minutes trying to wake me by kicking the door, banging
the torch off the door, opening and slamming the
hatch until he got tired. Even if he had of woke
me up, which he did not I would not have allowed
him the satisfaction of knowing it. Apparently the
gaoler became very dispirited that night and pretty
much left every one else alone. You can imagine
his existentialist crisis can't you, why am I here?
I'm useless; I can't even wake up a fat Teague.
I received bail and was released, I was in fact
released to an address in the south, a practically
unheard of situation and I had no bail conditions
other then signing on at a RUC barracks twice a
week. Every body knew the case was going nowhere
but they still persisted on dragging it on for months
of court appearances and sign on dates. Right up
until the day the case was dropped they were informing
my solicitor that they were prosecuting me. On one
court date I was late and my bail was revoked, there
was nearly a small battle in Armagh court house
when they tried to re-arrest me. That is a story
for another time, the reason I wrote this article
was to explain my admiration for the prisoners on
Roe 3 & 4, Comrades, and Republicans.
Despite a regime designed to break their spirit,
despite the machinations of the gaolers to deny
visits with the now infamous drug dog. They remain
strong of spirit, united as comrades, each one there
for the other; this extends across prisoners from
each grouping. Prison is a horrible place to find
yourself, without the comradeship that exists between
these men, their humour and their generosity of
spirit it would have been a far worse place for
me. These men are subject to a regime designed to
criminalise them and break their spirit.
This Regime was made possible by the traitorous
actions of the provisionals, some of which are now
subject to the same regime due to their short sightedness.
The prisoners deserve Political Status, they are
Political Prisoners incarcerated for Political actions.
It is a sad indicative of our times that 25 years
after Bobby Sands and nine other men laid down their
lives for Political Status, Republican Prisoners
in Maghabery are treated in this manner. We must
assist these men however possible; their plight
must not remain ignored by the british. This should
be a major goal for all as we move forward, only
with continuing pressure and protest from the outside,
have they any hope of receiving proper treatment.
These are strong spirited men who will undertake
all protest actions available to them. We must try
to ensure that all outside avenues are exhausted
before they must contemplate any other action, because
they will contemplate all actions available to them.
I would like to mention and thank several prisoners
on Roe House at that time, Tommy Crossan, donor
of coffee, wit and the Irish News, Martin Overend
another donor of coffee, companionship and wit,
Stephen Daly for advice, Kevin Sutton for chocolate
biscuits, companionship and tobacco, and Ciaran
McCloughlin for walking a stone off me, I think
he is starting a tunnel by eroding the cement of
the cage. Without the assistance of these men and
others on the Republican Wing and the support of
my beautiful wife and children, I would have been
fit for a padded cell only.