Maghaberry – the reality of strip-searching

Stephen Murney is a Republican Prisoner in Roe 4, Maghaberry. He penned the following article on 4th February 2013. It initially featured on the éirígí website.

In occupied Ireland today many Irish Republicans find themselves in the unfortunate position of being arrested charged and imprisoned purely as a result of their opposition to the on-going British occupation and for campaigning for national and social liberation.

On November 21st 2012, the Roe 4 Republican prisoners ended their long running protest in Maghaberry.

Just a few days later, on November 29th, I was arrested, taken to Antrim interrogation centre before being charged and then imprisoned in Maghaberry.

As many readers will be aware, there has been long and protracted campaign to bring about an end to the practice of forcible strip-searching. Below is my description of the degrading and humiliating process that Republican prisoners have to endure in Maghaberry Gaol.

When I arrived at Maghaberry I was brought to the “reception area” where I was photographed, had my personal details recorded and had my fingerprints taken. I was then informed of the procedure I would be expected to go through which included being strip-searched.

At this point I made it known that I would not be complying with the strip-search as it was degrading and humiliating for prisoners.

I was then taken and placed in a ‘holding cell’ and informed that I had 15 minutes to rethink my decision.

This ‘reflection period’ is solely designed as a psychological ploy to strike fear and worry into prisoners as they wait for what lies ahead.

During the 15 minute period, I see the riot squad gathering outside my cell glaring in at me in an attempt to intimidate me.

This particular riot squad is comprised of over half a dozen screws wearing black boiler suits, surgical gloves, heavy black boots and a utility belt around their waists with batons attached.

The cell door opens and I’m brought to the cell next door which is bigger in size. I enter the cell and sit on a wooden bench. I am then faced with the riot squad who file into the cell.

The screw in charge of the riot squad asks me if I have changed my mind regarding the strip-search. Once again, I tell him I won’t be complying with their degrading strip-search.

They bark at me to get up and I stand onto a mat which is situated on the floor in front of me. Two of the screws stand guard at the cell door - one is standing directly in front of me, two stand each side of me, one stands behind me and another stands in the corner and ‘observes’ the strip-search.

The screw standing in front of me grabs me by the face with both his hands while, simultaneously, the two screws each side of me grab my arms and stretch them outright forcing me to stand in a crucifix position. Both my wrists are forcibly twisted and bent backwards, causing extreme pain and discomfort.

I am forced onto my knees. As the screw in front pushes my face into the ground, the screw behind me then pulls both my legs from under me. I am now being held on the ground still in a crucifix position by four screws.

I am forcibly held down with my face pushed into the ground. Both my legs are being held by two screws. My arms are still outstretched with both my wrists twisted and bent in an almost impossible position.

While I am held in this position my jumper is forcefully pulled off and thrown into the corner, my shoes and socks are the pulled off, next my jeans are very forcefully yanked down in a manner, which clearly, is only used to inflict pain on the prisoner. Lastly my underwear is pulled down.

I am now lying on the floor of the cell completely naked, humiliated and degraded. My clothes are lying in the corner of the cell. My face is throbbing, my wrists are aching and, while I am lying there naked, those responsible stand towering above me.

The riot squad then begin to leave the cell one at a time. I am still lying on the ground naked yet they demand that I do not look at them or get up off the ground until they leave the cell. One wonders what they fear from a solitary, naked and defenceless prisoner.

Now left alone, I get dressed, thinking about what has just happened.

Afterwards, I was taken to a committal wing where I was locked up 23 hours a day. I was held there for over a week until I was moved to the Republican wing on Roe 4.

When I enter Roe 4 the first thing that hits me is the smell. It hits me like a brick wall. Just a fortnight beforehand, Republican prisoners had just ended a “dirty protest” lasting 18 months.

When I am escorted onto the wing I notice the riot squad standing staring at me. This is the same riot squad who strip-search Republican prisoners on entering and leaving the gaol: the same riot squad who had stripped me just a week before.

The riot squad are based on Roe 4 every day of the week; several members of the riot squad surround me and escort me to my cell. This is my first experience of controlled movement which at times consists of several screws escorting one single prisoner.

As I enter my cell, the door is slammed shut behind me.

There is human excrement on the walls and ceiling. A poor attempt had been made to clean it by the prison authorities but it is clearly still there. At the time of writing this (late January), the excrement is still on the walls and ceiling. Eventually I am taken out to the yard where the rest of Roe 4 prisoners are gathered.

I receive a warm welcome by everyone, kind words and handshakes are exchanged. It’s clear that anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves incarcerated here will be made to feel very welcome by the Republican prisoners.

I am then updated on the current situation. I am told what the conditions were like when the prisoners were on protest and how they were locked up 23 hours a day in their excrement-covered cells. They tell me about the “dams” they had to put around the gaps in the doors to stop the urine flowing back into their cells. I also hear about the unmerciful beatings that prisoners received at the hands of the riot squad over the past few years. Long-haired, bearded Republicans beaten and dragged up and down the landing by screws. These could be stories and accounts form the time of the blanket protest, but they aren’t - these events are very much a part of the present day prison struggle in Maghaberry.

In a short period of time, I quickly learn that Roe 4 Republican prisoners are a disciplined, well organised body of men, working together to create a better, more humane environment for Republican prisoners.

Roe 4 is made up of Republicans of all ages and backgrounds. There are men who have previous gaol experience from being held in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and Crumlin Road Gaol. There are young lads (and the not so young) who are experiencing their first taste of prison life.

Each day is a constant battle against the oppressive regime which is still in place. Ordinary people may not see or hear about it but on a daily basis the Roe 4 prisoners are fighting against a draconian and inhumane system.

It is now over two months since Republican prisoners made the bold decision to suspend their dirty protest. Since then, however, no significant changes have been made to the regime under which they are held.

The prison riot squad based on Roe 4 seem determined to provoke conflict in order to try and push the prisoners back on protest. They are clearly a law upon themselves and have the power “on security grounds” to influence and even overrule decisions made at the highest level of the prison administration here in Maghaberry.

At the present moment the riot squad are refusing to accept phone credit lists from Roe 4 prisoners. This means that when our phone credit runs out we will have no way to contact our families apart from on our visits. They are also refusing to accept our weekly fruit lists and due to further vindictiveness our access to various facilities has been restricted. An example of this is the decision by the riot squad to restrict our access to exercise facilities.

Degradation and humiliation of prisoners is rife by the prison authorities in Maghaberry. Controlled movement remains in place. At times only one prisoner is allowed onto the landing at a time. If you need to go to the shower, several members of the riot squad escort you to the shower room. It’s the same if you need to go to the laundry room or back to your cell.

There are other forms of vindictiveness such as depriving prisoners of sleep. Throughout the night and early hours the screws open the flap in the cell door and shine a torch in your face before slamming the flap shut. They also regularly bang and kick cell doors during the night making it impossible to sleep.
Prison struggles by Republicans have long been a feature of life within British prisons, from Tom Clarke to Bobby Sands and his comrades in Long Kesh, from the Republican women prisoners who suffered strip searches in Armagh and Maghaberry gaols, to the men who suffer the same torture in Maghaberry today.


  1. Wrongly imprisoned and then stripped and beaten whatever happened to our new beginning.
    Maybe we should have a dance on the steps of Stormont to highlight our injustice and get the media interested.

  2. What Next, What For The Future.
    What Can Be Expected Now.

    Prison Service director general Sue McAllister said staff were prepared for any reaction from republican inmates who were engaged in a dirty protest against the use of strip searches.

    To me that is planned action, the result of the scanners was a foregone conclusion.

    Hi-tech millimetre wave equipment, similar to that used at airports, will not be installed

  3. A disturbing personal account of the brutal strip search proceedure and of the poor conditions on Roe House. The prisoners awake each and every morning to face the grind of a regime that is designed to abuse and control them. We all have our own affiars to attend to but we should not forget the men and women who are imprisoned by the British system.

  4. This is an excellent post of the appalling and disgraceful conditions and practices which are a daily occurrences in Maghaberry ,ones first thought is that the screws are nothing but bigoted bastards out of control, which they are but its much more sinister than that ,if we read the excellent book Cruel Britannia by Ian Cobain we will see that such practices are a regular occurrence in all the Brit and American prisons and torture centers around the world,what Steven so graphically describes is happening to people as we speak all round the world.and it is not just condoned by the British and American governments but actively encouraged,when we highlight what is happening in Maghaberry we should remember those poor souls in rendition to places where none has ever heard of,these disgusting inhuman degrading practices must be stopped but its going to take an international effort to effect this I,m afraid .

  5. Itjustmackers a cara I think there was never any intention to install such equipment it goes against the international ie conspiracy to defeat terrorism ,their harsh brutal and degrading treatment of detainees from arrest ,we read of detainees being stripped in the manner which Stephen describes then made to wear nappies and oversized boiler suits hooded and tortured, and those bastards in the halls of Westminster and other parliaments use semantics to cover up these disgusting ,practices,the installation of such devices would lessen these extreme and brutal conditions and that would defeat the purpose of the exercise,they are playing games and it looks like they are making bigger fools if at all possible of those who say that there is a new beginning here to the justice system here.

  6. As horrific to hear about as it has always been. The personal accounts of prisoners always resonated a chord with people across the globe, and I hope more prisoners take the opportunity to get the word out, and when they do it has to go without saying that we as friends, family members and supporters should use every avenue open to us to highlight the reality of what prisoners a going through. When you consider the treatment of young Murney in contrast the the kid glove treatment of loyalists it is still evident that this bastard state has not and will not ever promote true justice and equality.

    Victory to the POW's!


  7. They haven't stopped mistreating republican prisoners you know. The difference between today and the past is SF do not see opposing such brutality as a priority.

  8. I don't think Republican prisoners are even on Sinn Feins radar. Some get embarrassed about the prisoners other have a scathing arrogance towards them. The latter opinion seems to stem from the misconception that their prison struggle was the last necessary struggle because it happened within the context of a so called just war.
    Few of them would accept that it was their inability to secure anything other than an unjust settlement that created the conditions for the continuation of prison struggle .

  9. Nuala,

    the only party person one to complaian after the operation was Tom Hartley. He demanded to be restored to his previous position immediately.

  10. Mick a cara the brutality that republican prisoners are suffering is now part of an international agenda by the powers that be,men women and children are suffering torture ,brutality and degrading treatment on a global scale, it is not confined to norn iorn and its worse than useless appealing to the masters of the torturers to call a halt to this disgusting behaviour, we really need to see this whole scenario in the round ,we need to be reaching out to the families and communities of those other groups now suffering these barbaric acts,this is not something that we can deal with in isolation and we are kidding ourselves if we think we can.

  11. The Dark finished him, don't think anyone every took him serious after that.

  12. The concerted campaign of victimisation by the Northern Ireland Prison Service against Martin Corey continues. On Monday the 11th of February 2013, Martin and two other prisoners submitted completed handcraft projects
    as St, Valentine’s Day gifts for their wives and partners. The other two prisoners had visits on Tuesday the 12th of February; their loved ones went to the collection point and received their items that were 24 hours after they were collected from the prisoners in Roe House 3.

    Today, Thursday the 14th of February 2013, Martin had a visit from his
    partner, after the visit she went to the collection point as requested by
    Martin. She was told by prison Staff that there was no items for
    collection, and to call back next week.

    Last week, Martin completed a complaints form on the wing to be delivered to the Prison Ombudsman concerning several items that were left in for him three weeks ago, which he never received. It is Prison Ombudsman’s policy
    that the prisoner receives notification within 24 hours that the complaint has been received. Today, Thursday the 14th of February, Martin has still
    not received notice that his complaint has been delivered to the Prison Ombudsman.

    Martin made an emergency request three weeks ago to see the prison dentist concerning a tooth broken at gum level; he only got to see the dentist yesterday the 13th February. He was told his initial request had been cancelled due to lack of transport.

    I have contacted Martin’s legal team and request they contact the Northern
    Ireland Prison Service and Prison Ombudsman for an explanation.

    This blatant campaign of victimisation must be highlighted.

    Jim McIlmurray

    (On behalf of Martin Corey)

  13. Good on you Jim for all the work you are engaged in,the vindictive and petty harassment of Martin and the other prisoners is enthusiastically carried out for HM government by thugs in uniform and if it wasnt kept in the public eye then I would fear for the safety of some of those incarcerated.

  14. Jim , Anthony.

    This is all part of the plan, Bigoted screws , POW's who do not conform will feel the wrath, It is obvious Martins complaint has not been passed on, Or, some bigoted screw took it to his local to show his bigoted friends, as far as the Prison Ombudsman, I would just say, If he has received it, It will continually be put to the bottom of the In tray. Something has to give in these situations, how long are these POW's to suffer inhumane and bigoted treatment. Its an absolute diabolical disgrace, whats Good about Good Friday , is that not the day Jesus was Crucified ,with others , how many Crucifixion's do the British want?. Seems POW's need to be Pro Treaty, SF will bus a gang of Blue Shirts and protest and demand there release, Seems they are already at work in Ardoyne, But The RUC/PSNI Just Call It AN ORDINARY SHOOTING, Two more shot this evening,But not sure who fired the shots ,Back to the De valera Days, conform or be shot.

  15. Been searching all evening to see if anyone has been pressing for the release of POW's.
    Believe it or not, I found it in the last place I thought I would, but, I do remember two SF MLA's helped to get Marian out for three hours to go to her Sister, Dolours (R.I.P.) wake and see her family.

    "3 Irish citizens illegally imprisoned – Taoiseach urged to act"

    three Irish citizens illegally held – Martin Corry, Gary Adams and Marian Price/McGlinchey. By Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh

  16. Jim,
    It's like a drip, drip, drip that begins to wear away at a person. Martin has been the victim of continuous devious manoeuvres by prison staff who seem to be accountable to no-one. Maghaberry is looking increasingly like one of those hellholes where any type of deviance can take place as long as the deviant opens and closes doors.
    Gerry mc Geough told about screws being drunk on the landing and Marian Price about them spying on her every hour through the night adding to her already vulnerable state of isolation. Psychological torture can now be added to the list of brutality.

  17. "republican prisoners are suffering is now part of an international agenda by the powers that be,"


    Your right and as you wrote to combat it we need and international response. That is why I welcome SF's response in the south. They seem to have believed this storm would pass them by, but it will not, it's already lapping at their feet.

    There will come a time when they will have outlasted their usefulness to the man in the big house. Thus I believe any movement on there part should be encouraged and in the caee of AOS taken at face value.

    One of the stumbling blocks over here and possibly elsewhere, has been SF reluctance to step up to the plate. Martin McG lock them up and throw away the key does not sits well with many left folk. But that does not mean the SF leadership do not still have pull. Thus the odd nudge in the right direction can only help.

  18. Mick as Anthony has already said this issue transcends party politics.if q$£ were to use the influence and limited pull that they still have to free Martin and Marian and reduce or stop the brutality in the prisons then it could only be welcomed, they may feel they are between a rock and a hard place but it coming to crunch time do they stand with the people or are they like Dorian Grey living the illusion that because the wrap a tricolour around themselves that somehow they will remain republican no matter how many hoops the brits have them jump is really a matter of you can run but cant hide ,and from Mc Guinness,s reponse it seems we already know the answer.