28 November 2005

Jail in dock over 'slopping out'


An ex-prisoner is taking the prison service to court

A former inmate at Magilligan jail in County Londonderry is taking the Northern Ireland Prison Service to court over "slopping out".

Justin John Martin alleged not having toilets in cells was "disgusting, humiliating and degrading" treatment.

The claimant, who served nine months at Maghaberry, claimed this breached the European Human Rights Convention.

Northern Ireland's High Court heard the prisoners were locked up with no access "to effective hygienic toilets".

Mr Martin's lawyer, John Larkin QC, said night-time coverage by prison staff to take inmates to the toilet was "patchy and inefficient".

"This results in the prisoners having to use a chamber pot and not being able to wash their hands... conditions that are distressing and humiliating," he said.

"The Prison Service has never looked at this issue through human rights. The attitude to prisoners at Magilligan is contemptuous and indifferent."

Plastic bag

Mr Larkin said during the course of the case, which is expected to last a week, the court would hear from other serving and former prisoners at Magilligan.

Mr Martin told the court that he had served nine months of an 18-month prison sentence at Magilligan.

He had at first been detained at Magheraberry, where he had a toilet and wash-basin in his cell along with a television, single bed, wardrobe, table and cabinet.

Mr Martin said when he was moved to Magilligan, his cell did not have a toilet or basin.

He said he was told the prison used a "slopping out" system where prisoners used a chamber-pot during lock-up times, which included a 12-hour period between 2030 and 0830 GMT.

Mr Martin told the court that if prisoners wanted to go to the toilet at night they had to ring a bell and wait for a prison officer to come and let them out.

The plaintiff said there was normally a long queue waiting to use the facilities so prisoners had to use their chamber-pots or a plastic bag.

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