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23 January 1997 Edition

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Governor lied to escape inquiry

Sensational claims at Whitemoor trial


In what is fast becoming a sensational trial into the breakout from Whitemoor Prison in September 1994, the prison governor has given evidence in court, under oath, that he misled the Woodcock Inquiry into the escape.

The trial of six men - Republican prisoners Liam O'Duibhir, Peter Sherry, Liam McCotter and Paul `Dingus' Magee, miscarriage of justice victim Danny McNamee and English prisoner Andy Russell - began on Monday 13 January at Woolwich Crown Court in London.

Prison Governor Brodie Clarke has provided the most controversial evidence. A 22-year veteran of the prison service, Clarke was appointed Governor of Whitemoor in May 1994. The prosecution case is that the items used in the escape were all smuggled in by visitors, including the guns and a bulky bolt cutters. Clarke gave evidence that the security procedures for searching visitors were inadequate, that there was no X-Ray machine, no metal-detecting portal and no use of hand-held metal-detecting wands. Later this evidence was directly contradicted by a junior governor at the prison, Governor Vert, while visitors to Whitemoor who have spoken to An Phoblacht recall stringent security measures, including metal detecting equipment.

Clarke also gave evidence that the men, all High Risk Category A prisoners, had no Category A books during their time in Whitemoor SSU. He later retracted this evidence and said that the books had been there but were not used. A prisoner who is ``on the book'' routinely has his every move recorded in that book by prison staff, his photo is in the book and any disciplinary actions recorded. The book always travels with the prisoner. Michael Mansfield, appearing for Liam McCotter, quoted prison rules to the governor, showing that not to have filled in the books was a complete flouting of those rules. Andrew Russell, who is defending himself, put it to the governor that the books were not available to the court because they would show that he was having a shower in the SSU at the time the fence was cut and that none of the other men were in the yard. The judge ordered Clarke, who is in line for a promotion, to produce the books.

Michael Mansfield then asked Clarke how many visits he had made while governor to the SSU. Clarke was adamant that he had made between six and a dozen visits. Mansfield than produced the security gatebook for the SSU which showed that Clarke had not been in the SSU between July and December 1994. Clarke said there must have been an error. Mansfield than referred Clarke to his statement to the Woodcock Inquiry into the September 1994 escape. In that statement he said he had visited the SSU at most three times. ``Did you lie to this court or did you lie to Sir John Woodcock?'' asked Mansfield. Clarke then said that if that was what was written down then he must have misled Woodcock.

It also emerged during cross examination that prison staff had been invited by the Prison Service to a training session in September 1996 to cover a briefing and role play for staff giving evidence at the trial. Clarke claimed that the role play had prepared the staff for the trial in a manner that would not obstruct the course of justice. He rejected a suggestion by Tony Jennings, counsel for Danny McNamee, that the purpose of the session had been to ``all get together and sort it out'.

The six men are charged with breaking from the prison, possession of two guns with intent and with intent to commit a felony. Magee is also charged with causing grevious bodily harm. All have pleaded not guilty. Magee has chosen not to attend the trial.

The breaking charge is significant as it differs from the more usual charge of escaping. `Breaking' is an archaic charge going back to Fenian times, when dynamite was often used in escape attempts. The maximum sentence under English law for escape is seven years. For breaking it is life. However, for the prosecution to prove the breaking charge they have to prove that the men caused physical damage to prison property while making their exit from the prison.

This task is proving difficult. Although two perimeter wire fences were cut, the prison authorities claim to have no surveillance tape pictures of the fence being cut, nor of the men firing any shots despite all the sophisticated surveillance equipment around the prison

Crown Counsel Waters told the court in his opening address that the fence had been cut at a `blind spot' for the cameras, that the first fence was not alarmed, that the alarm only sounded in the prison's control booth after the men scaled the SSU wall and reached the second fence. He also asked the jury to believe that there was no camera cover for the cutting of the second fence and that the surveillance camera system had no automatic recording facility. He claimed that it was more than four minutes after the men reached the second fence, in the process setting off a trembler alarm, before an inexperienced prison officer finally remembered to push a manual record button.

The prosecution case also includes evidence that a security camera which should have rotated to sweep the SSU exercise yard had been fixed in one direction when a prisoner complained of paranoid feelings that the camera was following him. The first sight of the men on the surveillance tape that has been made available to the court begins just inside the outer prison wall.

Michael Mansfield QC has this week suggested to various prison officers that the men did not cut the fences but that this task had been carried out by prison officers.

Already there are indications that the prosecution may ask the court to drop the breaking charge and replace it with a charge of escape. The case continues.

An Phoblacht
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