Media reporting worsened prison crisis - governor

 

MEDIA relations with the prison regime will be reviewed after it emerged that the worst moments of the two-day Mountjoy hostage siege resulted from television and newspaper reports.

Four of the six inmates who held four prison officers hostage and repeatedly threatened to hang or stab them with a blood-filled syringe were moved yesterday to Portlaoise, the State's most secure prison.

Two inmates, Mr Paul Ward, who is awaiting trial on a conspiracy charge related to the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, and a Dublin man, Mr Warren Dumbrell, remain at Mountjoy because they await trial.

The prison governor, Mr John Lonergan, said yesterday he had been prepared to use force had there been any physical injury to the hostages.

The officers held for 53 hours in the prison's Separation Unit were said to have been badly traumatised. A fifth officer, released at the start of the siege, was also said to have suffered badly.

Garda forensic officers yesterday sealed off the unit to collect evidence against the hostage-takers who may now face false imprisonment and assault charges.

It emerged yesterday inmates had made a noose of television cable and torn clothes which was tied to the ceiling. Officers were then made to stand on a table which they threatened to pull away. The syringe was repeatedly held to the hostages' throats.

Mr Lonergan said there were several instances where the inmates threatened to hang their host ages. Problems with media reports precipitated these crises. Articles in Monday's edition of the Irish Independent were the "whole problem" that day, he said.

The newspaper had to be withheld as a result of an article about an Army ordnance officer entering the prison in civilian clothes to assess how to use explosives to blow open the separation unit door, he said. The inmates demanded to see the newspaper throughout the day and frequently threatened to hang hostages over the issue; The inmates began countdowns on "three or four occasions" but the situations were defused. The newspaper also ignored a request not to name two of the six inmates who wished to remain unidentified.

There had been unofficial requests from the Department of Justice to journalists to restrict reporting and these were mostly accepted. However, Mr Lonergan confirmed there was no senior level contact with newspapers or broadcasting organisations.