Northern Ireland

Maghaberry prisoner strip-search challenge permitted

Scales of Justice

A man jailed for abducting a man from a Belfast pub has received permission to challenge prison authorities over strip-searching policies.

Hary Fitzsimmons claims he has been ordered to undergo full-body searches before being allowed into video-link consultations at Maghaberry Prison.

Fitzsimmons, 42, is serving an eight-year sentence for his part in the IRA kidnapping of Bobby Tohill in 2004.

Mr Tohill was bundled into a van before police intercepted the abductors.

Disciplinary

The legal challenge brought by Fitzsimmons centres on claims that he is being subjected to unlawful strip-search demands.

It is also claimed his refusal to comply has resulted in him facing disciplinary procedures.

A barrister for the Prison Service argued that there was no legal authority for contending body searches cannot be carried out without reasonable suspicions.

David McMillen said: "Again and again the European Court of Human Rights has accepted strip searches may be appropriate if they can be justified as necessary and proportionate.

"They must not be carried out for the purposes of humiliating or degrading a prisoner."

Mr McMillen acknowledged any refusal to allow Fitzsimmons into video-link consultations without undergoing the process should not happen.

But he stressed no such mistakes were being admitted and argued that the prisoner should go down a different legal route.

However, Mr Justice McCloskey granted leave to apply for a judicial review on the basis that an arguable case had been made out on a number of grounds, including the right to privacy.

The case will now proceed to a full hearing in September.

Consultations

Meanwhile, leave was also granted in another, related case brought by a west Belfast man currently on remand accused in relation to a weapons find.

Stephen Daniel O'Donnell is challenging a rule for prisoners in Roe House, Maghaberry which involves a 23-hour a day lock-down.

His lawyers claim that as well as the one-hour recreation he is permitted, Mr O'Donnell should also have time for consultations to prepare his defence.

Solicitor Ciaran Mulholland said: "Cases of this stature go to show that there are significant problems with the regime currently in place at Maghaberry."

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