Prison officers’ safety a top priority - POA

Last week’s attack on two prison officers escorting a dangerous prisoner to Tallaght Hospital cuts to the very heart of what it means to work on the frontline of the prison service.

Last week’s attack on two prison officers escorting a dangerous prisoner to Tallaght Hospital cuts to the very heart of what it means to work on the frontline of the prison service.

So said deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Mr Jim Mitchell, who told the Leinster Express there is huge concern at last week’s attack in which one prison officer was stabbed in the hand and neck while another received a more serious injury after being stabbed in the stomach. A third officer was unharmed in the incident.

“This goes to the heart of what a prison officer’s work is,” he said. “We’re going to have to get back to a position where top of the agenda is safety. As a trade union we have shown huge flexibility to changes to the service, but it must not be at the expense of our members’ safety.”

The attack happened last Tuesday, February 17, when the officers were escorting 53-year-old Derek Brockwell from Portlaoise Prison to a medical appointment in Tallaght. Brockwell was two years into a seven-year sentence for holding up the Bank of Ireland in Blackrock, and had previously been given 22 life sentences in the UK for armed robbery.

After assaulting the two prison officers Brockwell escaped and was picked up by a waiting accomplice. Just 24 hours later he was captured outside a pub in Belfast, where PSNI officers were forced to Taser him when a violent struggle developed. During this arrest Brockwell stabbed himself as the officers tried to lift him, causing near-fatal injuries.

Cllr Noel Tuohy, who has known for some 25 years the third officer involved in the escort, the driver of the prison van who thankfully was not harmed, said that mistakes were made in the decision not to beef up security on this escort and he laid the blame for this at the feet of whoever was responsible within the gardaí.

“There’s not a doubt in the world that someone made a mistake, someone could have died,” he declared, adding that the feelings of the prison officers on the frontline should take priority when deciding on security for prisoner escorts.

“When consulting people the Prison Officers Association should be contacted, these guys have been doing the job for years. I’m calling on the Department to talk to these guys who work on the (prison) landings, who know these prisoners,” he said.

He concluded by sending his wishes to the injured officers and their families.

The Garda Press Office said the incident is currently the subject of an investigation, adding: “An Garda Síochána do not comment on specific security arrangements.”