Northern Ireland

NI state papers: Prisoners claimed brutality after Maze escape

Soldiers at scene of Maze escape
Image caption A huge security operation was launched after the escape of 38 IRA prisoners in 1983

Allegations of brutality after the mass IRA escape from the Maze prison in September 1983 have emerged in papers released under the 30-year rule.

The claims, made almost immediately after the escape, alleged that a number of prisoners were bitten by guard dogs and beaten by prison staff.

One prison officer was stabbed to death and another severely injured by gunshot wounds during the breakout.

The relevant file has had papers removed to enable it to be opened.

Thirty-eight prisoners broke out in the biggest prison escape in British penal history.

Half were recaptured within two days, but 19 made it to the Republic of Ireland and four eventually got as far as the United States.

One prisoner has never been seen or heard of again.

'Dogs biting'

Following a complaint by the human rights priest, Fr Denis Faul, at least 11 prisoners made allegations to the prison medical officer that they were bitten by dogs in H Block 7 - the scene of the mass escape - on the night of 25 September 1983.

In a memo to W J Kerr, director of prison operations, a governor at the Maze, Mr K Hasson, said he had spoken to several officers and they were adamant "that none of the dog handlers made any report to them regarding the dogs biting anyone".

Mr Hasson added that a number of prisoners claimed to have been beaten by staff.

In a letter on the file dated 12 October, 1983, S C Jackson, an NIO official, sought to place the allegations in the context of the natural emotions of prison staff following the murder of one of their colleagues.

Mr Jackson wrote: "As far as the complaints of ill-treatment are concerned, a number of prisoners have asked to see solicitors... It does seem from Dr Bill's report that a number of prisoners were bitten or nipped by dogs in the course of the transfer from H7 to H8 on Sunday evening.

"I do not know how it was that any dogs used were not properly leashed.

'Reprisals'

"One has to make allowance for the tensions in the immediate aftermath of the escape and the killing of Officer Ferris and the wounding of other officers, but I do not think these considerations will enable us successfully to defend legal actions."

Mr Jackson felt that the authorities would have "great problems" if they were required to explain the virtual absence of medical services during the whole week following the breakout.

He reported that the governor had been asked to deal with suggestions that the alleged injuries were due to "reprisals" by prison officers.

In a further memo on the file, Mr Jackson outlined the "line to take" in face of "allegations of brutality after the Maze escape".

This stated that the government was "naturally concerned about the allegations of mistreatment," but stressed that none of the recaptured IRA men needed to be detained in hospital.

He acknowledged allegations by Fr Faul and Sinn Féin that some prisoners were beaten by officers or bitten by prison dogs.

It was possible, he warned, that these allegations would be put to (then) Secretary of State Jim Prior during his forthcoming visit to the United States.

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