The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Political Status


Geoffrey Cooling • 25 May 2006

In April 2005, I had the misfortune of finding myself incarcerated in Maghabery Prison. I had been arrested by the British Security Services on the Moy Road in Armagh for possession of items contrary to the Terrorism Act 2000. These items consisted of a 2 way radio base station which was affixed in my vehicle and a radio scanning device which was lying on the floor of my vehicle. The fact that neither of these items are illegal to possess in Northern Ireland except in a very narrow sense when it can be proved that they are to be utilised for Terrorist Offences , did not stop my arrest or my subsequent charging with terrorist offences and incarceration.

I feel I should point out at this stage that the two way radio is legally mine and I use it in connection with my employment, the scanner was a friends and I was in possession of it to have it repaired. My friend gave it to me because it would no longer charge and I had a supplier that repaired radio equipment. I explained this to the arresting officer and he even tried to turn it on to no avail. I was held at roadside for several hours before word came down from some body with a higher pay grade to arrest me. I was then taken to Antrim holding centre where I was interrogated for several days.

They said that the scanner worked, all that needed to be done was to charge it, and I said it did not because it was not charged. We have since discovered that the fault was the charger plug for the scanner. I explained what I worked at and why I had both items. My solicitor wanted to know what was going on, was I sure there would be no surveillance records that would be sprung on us. I said no, he then said that he could not understand what was going on but not to worry I would not be charged. His face the following Friday night at 23:30 when they announced they were charging me was a sight, I ended up consoling him. Needless to say I was whipped off to court on the Saturday and then straight to hotel Maghabery.

I believe my detention to have been illegal; the one item I was charged with being in possession of was the radio scanner contrary to the terrorism act 2000. The possession of the scanner is illegal if it is believed that it is to be used to assist or commit terrorist acts. The scanner I was in possession of did not work; this was checked at the roadside by a ruc man. If the scanner did not work, how was I planning to use it as an implement of terror? Perhaps they felt it was likely that I was going to storm nearby Gough Barracks using it as a blunt instrument.

Furthermore a detective lied in Bann bridge court on the Saturday morning and said that not only did the scanner work but I had the means to charge the scanner in my vehicle. Upon further questioning by my erstwhile solicitor, he had to back pedal and told the court that the forensic analysis was that the scanner would work if it was charged but at the time of my arrest the scanner was in fact inoperable. This of course made no difference to the judge, I was off to Maghabery no matter that one of the crowns finest had perjured himself. Since the charges were dropped against me I never did find out what means I had to charge the scanner. Perhaps it was two paper clips and a length of baling twine A Team style.

Upon arrival I was sent to Roe House which is the first place every prisoner ends up at. On Roe 1 & 2 prisoners are acclimatised before moving onto permanent Houses of residence. For a total of six days between the Antrim holding Centre and the first few days in Maghabery I was held incommunicado. The only outside contact I had was with my solicitor. I was only allowed to speak to my wife on the Tuesday following my arrest. It would not be over dramatic to say I was doing my nut. I was worried for my wife and children and they were terrified for me. Messages passed through Solicitors and a Priest do not nearly come close to hearing the consoling words said in the voice of a loved one.

After discussing the situation with my wife, I asked for the segregated unit, a british euphemism for the Republican Wing. I was informed that the regime on the segregated wing was a lot harsher and that I should rethink my decision not to go on general. I persisted and was eventually moved over there. It was only when I arrived on Roe 3 that I realised how stressed I had been, during my time in Roe 1 & 2 I had a run in with the infamous Jim Gray. He became a rather pleasant individual when he realised that I had a co-accused that was bigger than I am. I am a short but rather powerfully wide individual; my co-accused was a tall but rather powerfully wide individual. When I arrived on the Republican Wing I was greeted by several people, they made time to explain the system and regime, to ensure I had tobacco, biscuits and above all coffee, oh sweet, sweet coffee.

The welcome and generosity of these men was fantastic, I was put at my ease, made to feel safe, I was now among friends. The regime is hard on the Republican Wing in Maghabery, you alternate between 22 and 20 hour lock ups, on a good day you will get 2 hours exercise in the morning and the evening, on a bad day you will get 2 hours exercise in the afternoon only. You are secured in the rec room with access to the cage at these times; this is the only time that you are allowed anything close to free association. There are for all intensive purposes no opportunities for education, and like wise for craft work. You are allowed some cell association on some days; this is where any thing up to three prisoners are locked in one cell for a couple of hours to converse. I availed of these when I could, in order to keep relatively sane.

At meal times you are called from your cells three at a time to a hot food cart at the top of the landing to retrieve your food, make your mug of tea, grab your bread and practically sprint back to your cell to eat it. All foods are eaten while you are locked in your cell, right where your toilet is, nothing like it for convenience, the food was generally that bad that you often could just cut out the middle bit and scrape it off the plate into the toilet. I even thought about getting one of my bedrooms converted upon my release. The sprint back to your cell was not for the benefit of the Gaolers but for the benefit of your fellow prisoners, because only three prisoners where allowed out at a time by the time the last few received their food it would not only be un-edible, (it nearly always was), but cold as well.

The search regime is ridiculous, on my way to a legal visit, (a visit with my solicitor), I could be searched 7 times sometimes twice within twenty feet. Where and what exactly did they think I was going to get whatever they were searching me for. Then you have the cell searches, up to 20 gaolers in combat uniforms and a dog arrive in your cell, you get pushed around a bit and they upturn everything. The dog gets to lie in your bed, roll in your clothes and generally have a good sniff around. I tell you I was glad that somebody looked comfortable on the bed because the two inch thick mattress was crucifying me. Again, what they were searching for and where they were searching was ridiculous. I mean I could hardly hide anything in my bare cell; it was not like I could put it behind the piano in the corner. No Republican in Maghabery has ever been found in possession of drugs, while these searches went on in the Republican Wing constantly, the rest of the gaol was rife with drugs. It is an element of a regime that is designed to break the spirit of men.

Most of the gaolers just did there job, but some of them took great delight in the small things to make your life harder. Every hour on the hour at night the gaolers have to check you are in your cell. They open the flap in the door and shine in a torch, one of the more spiteful and inventive gaolers delighted in banging the door a couple of times to wake you up every hour on the hour. I sleep like something dead, the prisoner next door to me told me one morning that the idiot had spent five minutes trying to wake me by kicking the door, banging the torch off the door, opening and slamming the hatch until he got tired. Even if he had of woke me up, which he did not I would not have allowed him the satisfaction of knowing it. Apparently the gaoler became very dispirited that night and pretty much left every one else alone. You can imagine his existentialist crisis can't you, why am I here? I'm useless; I can't even wake up a fat Teague.

I received bail and was released, I was in fact released to an address in the south, a practically unheard of situation and I had no bail conditions other then signing on at a RUC barracks twice a week. Every body knew the case was going nowhere but they still persisted on dragging it on for months of court appearances and sign on dates. Right up until the day the case was dropped they were informing my solicitor that they were prosecuting me. On one court date I was late and my bail was revoked, there was nearly a small battle in Armagh court house when they tried to re-arrest me. That is a story for another time, the reason I wrote this article was to explain my admiration for the prisoners on Roe 3 & 4, Comrades, and Republicans.

Despite a regime designed to break their spirit, despite the machinations of the gaolers to deny visits with the now infamous drug dog. They remain strong of spirit, united as comrades, each one there for the other; this extends across prisoners from each grouping. Prison is a horrible place to find yourself, without the comradeship that exists between these men, their humour and their generosity of spirit it would have been a far worse place for me. These men are subject to a regime designed to criminalise them and break their spirit.

This Regime was made possible by the traitorous actions of the provisionals, some of which are now subject to the same regime due to their short sightedness. The prisoners deserve Political Status, they are Political Prisoners incarcerated for Political actions. It is a sad indicative of our times that 25 years after Bobby Sands and nine other men laid down their lives for Political Status, Republican Prisoners in Maghabery are treated in this manner. We must assist these men however possible; their plight must not remain ignored by the british. This should be a major goal for all as we move forward, only with continuing pressure and protest from the outside, have they any hope of receiving proper treatment. These are strong spirited men who will undertake all protest actions available to them. We must try to ensure that all outside avenues are exhausted before they must contemplate any other action, because they will contemplate all actions available to them.

I would like to mention and thank several prisoners on Roe House at that time, Tommy Crossan, donor of coffee, wit and the Irish News, Martin Overend another donor of coffee, companionship and wit, Stephen Daly for advice, Kevin Sutton for chocolate biscuits, companionship and tobacco, and Ciaran McCloughlin for walking a stone off me, I think he is starting a tunnel by eroding the cement of the cage. Without the assistance of these men and others on the Republican Wing and the support of my beautiful wife and children, I would have been fit for a padded cell only.





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Index: Current Articles

28 May 2006

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Humpty Dumpty
Anthony McIntyre

Eamon Sweeney

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Geoffrey Cooling

Enough, Enough of Stormont
David Adams

Joined at the Hip
John Kennedy

Loyal to What
Fred A Wilcox

No Rest In Peace
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'Penetrated' Has Become the Sinn Fein Brand Mark
Anthony McIntyre

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Review of the Field Day Review 1: Debut Issue, 2005
Seagh�n � Murch�

Profile: Salman Rushdie
Anthony McIntyre

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'The Blanket' meets 'Blanketmen'
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"What Future for Republicans?"
Public Meeting Announcement

An Open Letter to Gerry Adams and the IRA's Chief of Staff of the Army Council
Dr John Coulter

Paper Over the Cracks
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The Famine Season
Russell Streur

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Oil Prices
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Profile: Ibn Warraq
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The Muslims America Loves
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Freedom of Speech index



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