Prison was out of control, appeal hears

Court
Court

Northern Ireland’s high-security Maghaberry Prison seemed to be out of control, its former governor told a court this week during an appeal by two Craigavon men.

Steve Rodford said he believed some staff tried to intimidate him by the alleged planting of a note containing his car registration details in the cell of one of two men later found guilty of a police murder.

Along with former prisoner ombudsman Pauline McCabe, Mr Rodford was giving evidence at the appeal hearing of Brendan McConville, 42, and John Paul Wootton, 22.

Both men are seeking to overturn their convictions for killing Constable Stephen Carroll.

The PSNI officer was ambushed and shot dead as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009.

Mr Rodford and Mrs McCabe were questioned amid defence claims that police were intent on prosecuting McConville at all costs.

Part of their case is that after the note was discovered in his remand cell in September 2009 detectives failed to investigate his allegations that it had been planted.

Mr Rodford then quit his post in December that year - just months after taking over.

He told the Court of Appeal of his unproven “gut feeling” that a member of staff was behind the note.

At the time he was trying to implement changes at the prison, including the “extremely unpopular” disbandment of the Standby Search (SS) Team, judges heard.

Recalling how he felt on being informed of the find by one of those officers, he said: “The smug manner in which he approached me.

“The feeling as I remember thinking quite strongly the prison was out of control, actually people of the SS unbelievably trying to intimidate the governor.

“That was how it felt to me, the prison had many members of staff there that were way out of control, the way they were operating as prison officers which was a shame (as there were good officers too).”

He added: “I was left feeling ‘My God, there’s another one of these people in the prison.”

However, he had no memory of ever telling Mrs McCabe that he declined an alleged police request to add a sentence to his statement.

He told Barry Macdonald QC, for McConvile: “I have no recollection of them at all asking me to do that.

“I think I would have remembered if I had refused to have something added in.”

Mrs McCabe set out how her probe into the circumstances surrounding the note concluded that on the balance of probabilities it was planted by a member of prison staff.

She told how she went to a PSNI Assistant Chief Constable over her concerns that McConville may be prosecuted for the find without detectives properly considering that he was not responsible.

“In this instance I had evidence to suggest the possibility that the note found in Mr McConville’s cell had been planted by prison staff had not been fully investigated,” Mrs McCabe said.

Later in the hearing a PSNI detective denied defence claims that the father of a key prosecution witness was arrested as part of an alleged attempt to have him retract a statement branding his son a compulsive liar.

The man’s father, who can’t be identified but has given evidence at the appeal, was held for two days on suspicion of withholding information before being released without charge.

Mr Macdonald put it to the detective constable: “You must have realised yourself you were preempting this appeal hearing.

“Do you think you are entitled as police officers to go and arrest a witness in this way so you can cross-examine them before they get into court to be cross-examined in the proper circumstances?”

The detective replied that it had been the senior investigating officer’s decision.

Asked if he had ever done anything like it before when a witness was due to give evidence, he said: “No.”

McConville, of Glenholme Avenue in the town, is serving at least a 25 year sentence for the murder. Wootton, from Lurgan, received a minimum 14-year term.