23 May 2006

Republican inmate in challenge to sniffer dog

Daily Ireland

By Connla Young

A republican prisoner at Maghaberry has lodged an application for a judicial review into the use of drugs dog by prison bosses.
The application is expected to be heard at the High Court in Belfast later this week.
Republican inmates at the jail have complained that prison officers use the dogs to “harass prisoners and their families”.
The prisoner at the centre of the judicial review application, Stiofan O’Dalaigh, says he was recently stopped on two occasions returning from temporary release by prison officers who claimed a sniffer dog indicated he had been in contact with drugs.
On both occasions, he was locked up in the prison’s punishment unit for up to 48 hours and says he was subjected to sectarian abuse and had all privileges removed.
Strip searches carried out on the prisoner later failed to reveal any drugs.
A solicitor acting for the prisoner, Richie MacRitchie, said the Prison Service couldn’t justify the continued use of the drugs dog.
“The legal case follows mounting pressure against the prison in relation to their treatment of republican prisoners.
“Last year visits to the prison by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and veteran prison campaigner Monsignor Dennis Faul raised serious concerns about the misuse of the drugs dog against republican prisoners and their visitors despite the established fact that republican prisoners are known not to be involved in the use of drugs.”
“The Prison Service’s own review into the regime published earlier this year confirmed that no drugs had been found in the republican separated areas and the prison authorities have confirmed that they do not believe republicans to be involved in using drugs.”
Richie Walsh, from the Republican Prisoners Action Group, said: “The case also follows concerns raised by the British Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers who earlier this month published her report into conditions at the jail.
“The report was highly critical of the regime imposed on republican prisoners and was particularly scathing of the prison search team who were described as “disrespectful” and “intimidating”.?The report also described the separation of prisoners following an indication by the dog as “an entirely disproportionate response” and considered that it was “inappropriate” and “unacceptable”.
The High Court will now be asked to declare that the practice is unlawful and a breach of the European Convention.”
A spokesman for the Prison Service declined to comment when contacted.

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