North's judges attack plan to withdraw their bodyguards


JUDGES in the North have protested to the British Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, over plans to withdraw their RUC bodyguards.

Unionist MPs, and some British government ministers including the North's Minister for Political Development, Mr Michael Ancram - have also been warned that their police escorts and armoured cars will no longer be available from early March.

They have been told that their lives are no longer considered under threat because of the IRA ceasefire. The Ulster Unionist security spokesman, Mr Ken Maginnis, said that the reduction in security cover was "not unreasonable given recent political changes."

However, he added that the plans should have been drawn up after personal consultation with the judges and politicians. "It is regrettable that things have happened this way," he said.

An RUC spokesman said security arrangements were always reviewed but were not a matter for public discussion. About 120 bodyguards from the RUC's close protection unit are to be redeployed.

The proposals, approved by the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, have angered the North's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Hutton, and his High Court colleagues.

They are understood to have protested to Lord Mackay after being told that their bodyguards and police cars will be withdrawn completely next June. Representations are also believed to have been made to the British Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell.

Judges will also have to make their own travel arrangements after the legal system's summer holidays. The North's Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Alasdair Fraser, county court judges, and resident magistrates, will also lose their police escorts.

The DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, and the former Ulster Unionist leader, Sir James Molyneaux, are among the politicians who will no longer have armed protection.

Bodyguards will also be withdrawn for Mr Ancram the North's Environment Minister, Mr Malcolm Moss and the Economy Minister, Baroness Denton. "It is understood that the Northern Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and the Security Minister, Sir John Wheeler, will not be affected.

Less than 12 members of the close protection unit will be retained, according to the proposals. However, the RUC is under pressure to reconsider the extent of the cut backs.

The bodyguards and car for the UUP MP for south Belfast, the Rev Martin Smyth, are to be withdrawn in March. His predecessor, the Rev Robert Bradford, was shot dead by the IRA.

Mr Smyth said: "The terrorist threat is still there and this decision was obviously taken without a great deal of consideration. It may be political because the Chief Constable clearly believes this is an appropriate time to distance the police from politics and at the same time save money."