Ulster Peace: The immoral Maze: where the prisoners rule the roost

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The Independent Online
When Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, steps into the Maze prison today, she will be entering rigorously disciplined regime policed not by the prison authorities, but by the commanding officers of `prisoners of war'. Steve Boggan describes the most unusual prison in the world.

They were the questions on everybody's lips the day Billy Wright, the "King Rat" of the Loyalist Volunteer Force was gunned down inside the Maze. How could prisoners in the UK's toughest jail get access to guns? And once they had, how did they evade capture in order to use them?

But the nature of the Maze itself provides the answers. A complex of eight H-blocks housing 500 of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, the Maze is more akin to a prisoner of war camp - with its chains of command - than it is to a jail housing common criminals.

It was in 1981 that the true distinction between its inmates - men of murderous principle - and ordinary convicts became recognised in the political process. Then, 10 IRA volunteers died after a hunger strike aimed at securing special status for political prisoners. After the death of Bobby Sands, the first striker to die, the distinction was made clearly.

As a result, the blocks represent segregation as well as incarceration. A-wing, for example, houses 15 Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) republican prisoners, while neighbouring C-wing is home to 15 Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) terrorists.

It was from C-wing two weeks ago that three INLA killers launched their attack, across the roof of H-block 6, on the minibus carrying Wright, still inside the prison but not safe from their reach.

Because of the nature of each block, with prisoners acting as a disciplined unit and with commanding officers giving orders and authorising break- outs, the procurement of weapons, equipment, mobile phones, information and even women is difficult to prevent.

Before Christmas, each of the paramilitary groups was allowed to hold a party. During the IRA's celebrations, the convicted murderer Liam Averill escaped, dressed as a woman. Escape attempts are a regular occurrence. The most spectacular came in 1983 when, after assembling an armoury of five guns, 35 IRA prisoners ran through the gates. Most were re-captured shortly afterwards. The inquiry into that breakout concluded that a member of staff - either bribed, blackmailed or intimidated - may have carried the guns in.

Such is the proximity of the blocks and the mutual hatred of their inmates, that Mo Mowlam's meeting today with Michael Stone, the man who ran amok in Milltown Cemetery with a gun and hand grenades, is expected to be followed within days with a meeting only yards away at which Harry Maguire will be present.

Maguire was in Milltown Cemetery when Stone killed three during the funerals nine years ago of the IRA active service unit gunned down by the SAS in Gibraltar. Days later, at the funeral of one of those murdered during the funeral, Maguire was one of the mob which beat and then killed Cpl Derek Wood, 24, and Cpl David Howes, 23, the Royal Signals officers who were dragged from their car after becoming caught up in the funeral procession.

And it will not be lost on her that, though imprisoned only yards apart, joined inextricably by a week-long chain of events, Maguire and Stone might as well be on different planets.

SAM McCRORY, 32, camp commander of the Ulster Defence Association inside the Maze. Tatooed from head to foot, he is currently serving 16 years for conspiracy to murder. Just days ago he warned that the Loyalist ceasefire had reached breaking point.


42, is notorious for his 1988 attack on republican mourners at Milltown cemetery during the funeral of three IRA terrorists shot by the SAS in Gibraltar. Three people were killed. A member of the UDA, Stone has killed six Catholics in all.


CUNNINGHAM, 30, was sentenced to 25 years in 1995 for an attempted murder in 1993. Was identified and arrested a year later by a broken tooth found in a getaway car. He recently lost 28 days' remission for throwing a can of cola at a warder.

BOBBY PHILPOTT, 43, leader of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, is serving 17 years for two attempted murders. He said: "We have met Mo Mowlam before. We hope she meets all sides including the Provos. The situation is on a knife edge but I support my party to be at the talks."

PADRAIG WILSON, 38, is the commanding officer of the IRA inside the Maze. He is serving 24 years for the attempted murder of a soldier and for conspiracy. He was arrested in possession of a booby-trap bombHe said yesterday: "We want this ... to work. We are in this to try and remove the need for armed struggle."

HARRY MAGUIRE, 37, is serving life for the murder of Corporal Derek Wood, 24, and Corporal David Howes, 23, two signals officers who were brutally beaten and then shot after accidentally driving into an IRA funeral procession. He organised the movement of the battered officers by taxi to waste ground where they were finished off.

JIM McVEIGH, 33, comes from the Falls Road in Belfast. He is serving 24 years for conspiracy to murder service personnel. He has served 13 years.

SEAN MATHERS, at 21 one of the youngest Republican prisoners in the Maze, is serving a life sentence for conspiracy to cause explosions. He comes from Newry.