20 December 2005

MPs 'misled' on slopping out

Belfast Telegraph

By Deborah McAleese
20 December 2005

Urgent calls have been made for Tony Blair to investigate how the Northern Ireland Prison Service "misled" parliament into believing that slopping out was not a regular occurrence in Magilligan Prison.

Parliament was told by Minister Ian Pearson last year that inmates here no longer slop out on a daily basis after he was wrongly briefed by prison officers.

It has since been admitted in the High Court by prison wardens at Magilligan that prisoners had to use chamber pots on a daily basis and that the Minister had been wrongly briefed.

Tony Blair has been informed of the situation and asked to rectify it immediately to ensure the correct information is placed before parliament.

Several prison officers admitted in the High Court recently that slopping out is a daily occurrence in the prison's 'H' blocks - where there are no in-cell toilets - after Belfast man Justin John Martin, who spent nine months in the prison last year, launched legal action against the Prison Service for breaching his human rights.

Martin claimed the conditions he was forced to live in were "degrading, demeaning and disgusting". He said he was often forced to use a chamber pot and then have no access to washing facilities.

Just days after the legal action was launched earlier this month, all cells in H-block were provided with wash basins.

Last November, in response to a question posed by David Lidington MP, Mr Pearson told parliament that chamber pots are used for emergencies only and are seldom asked for or used.

He said: "Generally, daily slopping out of cells is no longer required in any prisons in Northern Ireland."

Martin's solicitor, Garrett Greene from McCann & McCann solicitors, contacted the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and Mr Lidington to call for a rectification.

He said: "I have asked Tony Blair to take immediate action to address the fact that parliament was misled. This is a matter of utmost importance.

"I have asked for it to be rectified and for further clarification as to how such erroneous information concerning Northern Ireland affairs was put before parliament."

High Court judge Mr Justice Girvan is currently considering whether to award compensation to Martin following a two week hearing.

This is the first case of its kind to be taken in Northern Ireland and if successful some of Ulster's most notorious criminals could receive compensation.

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