18 September 1997 Edition

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Brutal English prison unit still operates

By Mick Naughton.

Contrary to recent media reports, one of the widely condemned Special Secure Units (SSU) used to hold Irish political prisoners still operates at Belmarsh Prison in London.

The five republican POWs are now enduring a harsher prison regime, according to the partner of Fermanagh man Brian McHugh.

McHugh from Fermanagh, on remand on explosives charges, is now on 23 hour lock up. He has told his partner Maura Connolly that at night sleep is impossible as a drunken prison guard regularly kicks his cell door while shouting obscenities.

``He hasn't slept regularly in weeks,'' said Connolly.

Four other Irish republicans, Patrick Kelly, Michael Phillips, Jimmy Murphy and Séamus McArdle and six English prisoners are affected too.

McHugh also had to endure being strip searched over 96 times so far in the run-up to his 23 October trial. Following a recent visit McHugh had with his step children, Olivia and Jessica, the first time he had seen them in a year McHugh was also strip searched.

During the visit Connolly and the two children (both under five) were forced to sit on opposite sides of a table. ``They cannot understand why they cannot hug Brian. During the last visit he was told that if the children did not sit down the visit would be terminated,'' Connolly said. ``After the last visit the children cried themselves to sleep''.

Screws who are close by at all times take down notes of what is said.

Last Monday night McHugh was also refused a short telephone call, further increasing Maura's concern. She was later told by the family of fellow POW Seamus McArdle that his call had been refused. McArdle himself had not seen his family for over five months.

McArdle's brother told Maura that because McHugh was not allowed into the canteen he could not buy the necessary phone cards. When this was taken up by a lawyer acting for the men firstly the governor of the high security unit could not be located then they were told he was on punishment because he had refused what he believed was an unwarranted strip search. (After his last visit McHugh was strip searched three times).

Further harrassment by the screws in Belmarsh includes regular confiscation of already censored personal letters.

``Recently Brian was reading an already censored letter when a screw snatched it from his hand. This is typical of the abuse these men are receiving. Things have in fact got worse since they were downgraded last month from `exceptional risk' category, to `high risk' category. Actually this increased the number of strip searches. It seems to the families and the prisoners they give with one hand only to take away with the other. A worrying development within the unit was that, and nobody outside the unit knows this, is that one of the English prisoners went on a 10 day hunger strike over the conditions.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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