A FORMER prison officer has revealed it is "no problem" for inmates to smuggle mobile phones into secure institutions.
Prison staff also routinely open and enter groups of cells by themselves against prison regulations, it was claimed yesterday. Gina Savino (54), a retired prison officer, told an Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) hearing that prisoners regularly use windows, toilets and their own bodies to smuggle and hide mobile phones in prisons. Ms Savino was a prison officer from 1987 to 2009. She has taken a case to the EAT to challenge a decision made by the rights commissioner about sick leave and subsequent money she claims is owed to her.
The case revolves around an incident in June 2006 when she was attacked by a prisoner after trying to seize a mobile phone from a cell.
She claims the injuries she suffered should be classed as injuries at work, but the Irish Prison Service said they were partly due to her own negligence.
The Prison Officers' Association (POA) said the decision has affected the amount of sick pay she has received and estimated the loss at €17,800.
Ms Savino told the hearing said she had been delivering milk cartons to cells in Wheatfield prison in Clondalkin, Co Dublin, when she saw a mobile phone on a table.
She confiscated the phone as it was contraband, but one of the prisoners in the cell attacked her and the door was closed behind her.
Ms Savino said she was "terrified" as a result of the attack and had to leave the jail.
She later moved to a unit that transferred prisoners.
Tony Kerr, for the Irish Prison Service, said she had been in breach of procedures because she distributed the milk to cells instead of leaving the cartons on a central table. However, Ms Savino said distributing the cartons was common practice and that officers opened and closed cells by themselves if the jail was short-staffed.
Two POA reps, who also worked at Wheatfield, agreed with Ms Savino.
POA general secretary John Clinton said if the milk was left for prisoners to collect it would be stolen.
"There is a certain level of flexibility with officers," he said.
John Kavanagh, who was assistant governor in Wheatfield at the time, ruled that Ms Savino's injuries were not work related because she had contributed to the problem and it had not been witnessed by anyone.
He said the delivery of milk in this manner was done by some officers but they were not paying attention to their own safety.
Ms Savino could have withdrawn from the cell after spotting the phone and done a follow-up search later, he said.