By Niall McCracken
SIXTEEN claims have been brought against the Northern Ireland Prison Service by female inmates since 2004, including one alleging an incident of “a sexual nature”, according to figures obtained by The Detail earlier this year.
Four of the claims have been settled, with the total compensation amounting to over £12,000. Eight claims are still pending and four claims were closed with no monies paid out.
The incidents involved in the cases range from allegations of a sexual nature, to claims of unsafe work practices and false imprisonment.
Three of the alleged incidents took place in Mourne House in Maghaberry prison, one in Newry Courthouse and the remainder in Hydebank Wood prison.
It is claimed that the incident of a “sexual nature” took place at Ash house in Hydebank Wood Prison.
Female prisoners were previously incarcerated at Mourne House at Maghaberry Prison until it closed in June 2004 when the women prisoners were transferred to Ash House at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre.
The latest Prisoner Ombudsman report into the death of Frances McKeown (23) published today makes reference to an incident Mrs McKeown witnessed whereby a male prison officer was seen kissing a female inmate.
In February of this year, under Freedom of Information legislation, we asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) to provide details of any completed or pending compensation claims lodged by female prisoners against the Northern Ireland Prison Service or Department of Justice since June 2004.
We asked it to include the reason given for the claim, the name of the prison involved, the date of the incident or incidents which led to the claim, how much compensation was paid (in successful claims), when it was paid, if there was a confidentiality order included and what that order covered.
We specifically asked for details of any claims made by female prisoners relating to inappropriate sexual contact or sexual advances of any kind on the part of prison service staff – including information about the behaviour which the prisoner alleged took place, how much compensation was paid, when it was paid, if there was a confidentiality order included and what that order covered.
By March 2012 the department responded outlining that there had been a total of 16 claims from female prisoners during the time period specified. The claims fell into a number of categories:
- Slips / trips / falls
- Road traffic accidents
- Unsafe working practices
- Death in custody
- False imprisonment
The figures provided by the prison service cover from June 2004 – February 2012
The department said that four claims were settled and totalled £12,250; four claims were closed with no monies paid out and there are presently eight live claims pending. One claim made allegations of a sexual nature.
The Department of Justice said that the further detail requested could not be provided as it would be a breach of privacy and could lead to the identification of individuals and the details of private litigation between those individuals and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
Following an internal review of the decision requested by The Detail, the department then confirmed that three of the incidents took place in Mourne House Maghaberry Prison, one incident took place in Newry Courthouse and the remainder took place in Hydebank Wood. The review team also confirmed that the incident of a “sexual nature” took place at Hydebank Wood prison.