Thursday 8 December 2016

Prison watchdog to probe claim officers gave inmate 'a hiding'

Shane Phelan and Cormac McQuinn

Published 22/10/2016 | 02:30

Leon Wright Picture: Courtpix
Leon Wright Picture: Courtpix

The Inspector of Prisons is to examine the recording of a court hearing during which it was alleged prison officers gave "a hiding" to a violent inmate.

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Judge Michael Reilly said he would examine whatever documentation was referred to him before deciding whether to take action.

His comments came after one of the country's most dangerous criminals, Leon Wright (28), was cleared of assaulting a prison officer when he was being searched for weapons.

The case drew attention after Independents4Change TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace attended court to support the prisoner.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Judge Reilly said: "I will obviously have to study the documentation and decide whether any matters disclosed in it fall within my remit.

"If so, then I would have to decide if any action should be taken."

Judge Reilly has the power to investigate issues in prisons and raise concerns or make recommendations to prison governors, the Irish Prison Service director general Michael Donnellan or Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Wright is considered highly volatile and has racked up 250 disciplinary reports since 2004.

These include instances where he allegedly assaulted or attempted to assault prison officers, threatened to kill prison officers and damaged prison property. A Prison Service source described him as the "most depraved prisoner officers currently have to deal with".

"He goes nowhere without a full escort. He is beyond dangerous in terms of his approach to staff," the source said.

Mr Wallace last night defended his appearance at Wright's court case.

While he acknowledged Wright "has a frightening history" of violence, Mr Wallace raised concerns about how he was being treated in prison.

Mr Wallace explained he visited Wright in Portlaoise Prison with Ms Daly after being contacted by his solicitor, who raised concerns alleging that his human rights were being violated.

Mr Wallace said he was "utterly shocked" at some of the evidence he heard in court.

"It goes without saying that we believe all prison staff should be able to work safely, free from threats and violence," Mr Wallace said.

"Our intervention is motivated by a desire for a safer environment for prisoners, staff and society at large."

Wright, from Donore Avenue in Dublin 8, has spent most of his adult life in prison. He was jailed for 13 years in 2007 for crimes including robbery, hijacking, assault and threatening to kill gardaí.

During this week's hearing, he was handcuffed in court and accompanied by five prison officers wearing riot gear.

Judge Alan Mitchell dismissed assault charges against him arising out of an incident at Wheatfield Prison in October 2013.

During the case, the defence raised questions over the credibility of prosecution witnesses and evidence. Judge Mitchell directed the Courts Service to offer a digital audio copy of the proceedings to Judge Reilly.

Irish Independent

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