Loyalists in rooftop protest at high-security Belfast jail

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 100 loyalist prisoners last night staged a rooftop protest at Belfast's Crumlin Road jail, ripping up slates and pitching them at prison officers and riot police, writes David McKittrick.

The inmates sang, danced and hurled abuse at riot squad teams in what the Northern Ireland Office described as a major incident. Belfast loyalist councillors were involved in attempts to mediate.

The protest began shortly after 8pm when prisoners broke through to the roof. The men left the roof three hours later, and the Northern Ireland Office said the 103 men involved were back in their cells shortly after midnight.

The high-security jail holds loyalists, republicans and non-paramilitary prisoners while they await trial. It has often been the scene of protests, though not usually on the scale of last night.

Relatives of the prisoners who gathered outside the jail said the protest was over conditions, particularly overcrowding. Previous loyalist protests have centred on demands for segregation from republicans.

Two years ago, an IRA bomb exploded in a canteen, killing two loyalists. Some months later, loyalists fired an RPG-7 rocket at a cell-block housing republicans.

Earlier this week, trouble broke out at the Maze prison, near Belfast, when loyalists resisted an attempt to search a cell-block. On Wednesday, loyalist gunmen made an unsuccessful attempt to kill an off-duty prison officer.

(Photograph omitted)