Hydebank inmates at war over lucrative prescription drug trade
Ulster’s prison system is in meltdown.
Today the Sunday World lifts the lid on a penal system in crisis, awash with drugs, violence and the scourge of corruption.
In a week when a government commissioned report has labelled maximum security prison Maghaberry Europe’s most dangerous, we reveal the living hell inside Northern Ireland’s Young Offenders’ Centre.
Sources inside the jail in south Belfast say two highly dangerous criminals have come to blows recently as they try to take control of the lucrative drugs racket which once source claims is worth up to £5,000 a week.
Meanwhile inmates, including many who are extremely vulnerable, have been caught up in the crossfire as staff struggle to cope.
“Hydebank is ready to explode and the staff have turned a blind eye to it all,” said one insider.
“While the centre is definitely doing some good rehabilitation programmes for some inmates, the vast majority are left to fend for themselves. “
Sources have told us prison staff are constantly under pressure to smuggle drugs into the prison.
“Drugs are more easily available than ever before and the Prison Service is losing control of the place – someone is going to be killed.”
The Prison Service has denied the allegations but it comes in the wake of a damning report into HMP Maghaberry.
That report painted a picture of a Prison Service in total crisis despite them having imposed major reforms in the last three years.
But today we lift the lid on the jail, which prison chiefs recently renamed Hydebank Wood College.
Jail sources say two men – 20-year-old Casey Morgan from Co Down and 22-year-old Michael Cassidy – are at war with each other over the sale of prescription drugs.
The pair have come to blows on numerous occasions and Cassidy is understood to have come out on top.
Cassidy was jailed for three years in January 2014 and ordered to serve 20 months in Hydebank after he was involved in a bizarre drink and drug-fuelled armed robbery at a Belfast off-licence.
Cassidy, from the Lower Ormeau area of Belfast, robbed the off-licence armed with a baseball and with a pink pillow case over this head.
Cassidy robs an off licence with a pillow case over his head
He has two convictions for possession of cannabis as well as other convictions for theft and receiving stolen goods.
His rival Casey Morgan has racked up almost 60 convictions and when he went on the run to Donegal in 2013 authorities described him as one of the country’s most violent high-risk teens .
Morgan was sentenced to three years in a young offender’s institution with a five years post-release licence after an attempted robbery of a chemist in Downpatrick, Co Down, on November 24, 2008.
He covered his face with a scarf and held a knife up to the throat of a female member of staff as he demanded drugs and money.
Morgan made threats to kill the female staff member but fled the scene when he was told the shop safe worked on a time-delay mechanism.
In 2013 he went on the run with convicted rapist John McCabe and the pair were caught by gardai living in a caravan in Burtonport.
“Cassidy has become the main man in Hydebank recently because others have either been released or transferred to Maghaberry for bad behaviour.
“He has a little gang of five or six pals who work alongside him selling the drugs and he has prison officers who are bringing them in.
“It mostly prescription medication like Lyrica painkillers – which are known as Budweiser’s because they make you feel drunk.
“That’s the main drug inside the jail that everyone wants to take but they also sell Valium, diazepam and lot of legal highs.
“Morgan has also been doing his own deals which have led to tension with Cassidy. Cassidy gave him a beating in the education wing not that long ago.”
Sources inside the jail say severe staff shortages caused by massive cutbacks and sickness have meant the authorities have not been able to get a grip on the situation.
The Prison Service recently restructured itself under Director General Sue McAllister who was tasked to make the prisons more streamline – including paying off prison staff and replacing them with new officers on half the pay.
As previously reported paying these so-called ‘yellow-pack’ officers a starting salary of just over £18,000 has led to major problems throughout all the prisons.
“You have these officers getting paid just £18,000 and many of them are living in working-class estates and can easily be intimidated or got at.
“I know of two officers who started making a few quid by bringing in pornography DVDs and mobile phones, it was inevitable they would come under pressure to smuggle drugs.
“It’s really easy because there aren’t enough staff to carry out the necessary searches.”
But the drug gangs are also involved in bullying vulnerable inmates into handing over genuine medication or making them ask for more from the prison doctors.
And the drug problem is leading to a rise in attempted suicides and assaults.
“You’ve got young lads who are taking these drugs and then they don’t have the money to pay so they are getting attacked and warned to make sure they get someone on the outside to pay their bill,” says another source.
“There have been a lot of people who have attempted suicide, have had to be cut down or have taken overdoses.
“On top fop that there have been loads of fights and really nasty attacks including scaldings. They get a flask of boiling water and put sugar into it so when they chuck it over you it will stick to your skin.
“Once they know you are vulnerable they will target you for medication or to hide drugs in your cell. It’s a terrible place to be.”
Sources say getting drugs into the jail is not difficult and repeat offenders who are going to be sentenced are stocking up with pills before they go to court.
“The drug abuse and smuggling is being ignored because they are desperate to protect the public view of the prison.
“They even changed it’s name to college for God’s sake. There are good schemes and the governor has plenty of people out working but it’s for the minority.
“There are civilian staff who are working in there who are really concerned about what’s going on.”
Hydebank was heavily criticised by a prison report in 2012 after two young inmates committed suicide on the same day and an investigation uncovered a shocking culture of bullying.
The Prison Service refused to comment except to say they refuted the allegations.