October 26th, 2014

Republican says he was strip-searched 30 times in 14-month prison spell

Northern IrelandBy Paula Mackin
Stephen Murney
Stephen Murney

Republican activist Stephen Murney says he endured repeated enforced strip searches in a 14 month “living hell” behind bars.

In an exclusive interview within days of walking free, after being cleared of a raft of terrorist charges, the Eirigi press officer lifted the lid on the brutal prison regime which he described as physical and mental torture.

“I was forcibly strip searched about 20 to 30 times when I was in there (Maghaberry),” he said.

“Just before the searches were about to happen, I was taken into a room and asked if I was going to comply with a search, I would make it known I wouldn’t.

“Then I was left in a room for about 15minutes, a reflection period they call it, in the cell by yourself.

“Basically this was to get you worried, as you know what’s going to happen to you. The cell then opens and half a dozen screws, the Riot Squad as they are known in jail, enter the room in black boiler suits with utility belts and batons. You are standing in the cell, they stand around you.

“One in front, grabbed me by the face, each one to the side grabbed me by the arms, and hold you out like a crucifix position.

 

“The others behind me force me on my knees then pushed my face literally into the ground. At that point you are fully clothed, then they start removing your clothing. I didn’t put up resistance.

 

“They held me in arm locks and pressure points and then left me lying on the ground, degraded and feeling humiliated.

 

“And they never tell you what they are looking for,” explained Mr Murney.

He said the searches were unnecessary as the prison is equipped with an electronic BOSS chair that can detect any foreign item in the body.

In a frank and open interview the Newry republican spoke of his determination to continue to fight for his political goals yet publicly backed a non-combatant approach to achieving a United Ireland.

“Eirigi is engaging publicly and privately in relation to the futility of armed actions.

“There are people who agree and disagree with our analysis and that is a range of all people, but I would support the party’s position,” said Mr Murney.

However the former republican prisoner stopped short of condemning acts of violence carried out by other members of his group and the acts of dissident terror groups, including the murders of Constable Ronan Kerr and prison officer David Black.

“The politics of condemnation never worked for 40 years. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation now, but what I can say is that I do not support armed groups and their actions.

“There is a major misconception that dissident activity equates to armed actions. Remember the dissidents of the Soviet Union were the toast of the West.

“There is a whole raft of republicans of different shades who disagree with the status quo who don’t go out there with armed actions on their minds.

“Former members of Sinn Fein and the IRA are coming out saying where they stand. Being a dissident does not necessarily equate with being involved in armed activity and Eirigi’s position on armed activity is clear as it was to Judge Philpott who has totally vindicated me and my party,” he added.

Last Monday, Corrine Philpott QC, acquitted the Eirigi spokesman after six of the charges including possession of BB guns and combat styled clothing were thrown out in a no bill application.

The final charge of taking and publishing photographs of PSNI officers on his Facebook account from the 2012 Olympic Torch run were also thrown out of by the Diplock court judge.

Defending solicitor Darragh Mackin has now confirmed that he will be pursuing a civil action for damages for his client.

Speaking to the Sunday World Murney revealed how he coped with humiliating ‘crucifix-styled’ strip searches and ill treatment during his 14 months on remand.

His health has suffered, the visible toll on his physique can be seen in his significant loss in weight.

The 30-year-old admits the experience proved to be a mental as well as physical “torture” following repeated, forced strip searches, sometimes twice a day.

Murney was arrested in November 2012. He was offered bail of £1,000 bail with the conditions that he stayed out of Newry. He rejected the terms and continued to decline the conditions for a further year.

“I have no doubt if I had accepted the bail I would have ended up breaching them through no fault of my own, and be on further charges.

“The whole experience was hard on family, especially my son six-year-old son Rhys.

“He knew where I was and why, he knew the police had been harassing me for months before the raid. He was there in the house when the armed police raided my home at six in the morning,” he recalled.

It was the visits from his much loved son and the support of his family that kept him going through his darkest of hours.

“As you can imagine I always looked forward to his visits. It was really difficult to say no to bail, but I had the support of my family.

“My mother, Martina wrote to the Attorney General John Larkin, the NI Human Rights Commission, and the director of public prosecutions to examine my case. So there was a campaign going on all the time.

“We were being heard before I was arrested and we are continuing to be heard and that is what the British state tried to put a stop to by locking me a way,” said Mr Murney.

The position of the press officer is to continue in his work with the political group in establishing a new electoral campaign north and south of the border.

The socialist republican does says that a united Ireland is possible in his lifetime, but has says the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is living in “Cloud Cuckoo Land”.

“Martin McGuinness’ vision of a united Ireland by 2016 is just two years away, and in my opinion it is just not going to happen.

“I would like to see it happen in my lifetime. Ireland has a wealth of natural reserves that is yet to be taped into, and just like Scotland voting on independence, it can happen here too.

“We have already chosen candidates for the upcoming local council elections with two in Belfast and seven in the South. And we will be considering potentially sitting in the new super council of Newry, Mourne and Down.

“Don’t forget I am an innocent man, and I intend to pursue my political beliefs despite all that has happened to me,” said Mr Murney.

In the same week as the Newry man walked out of Laganside courts to greet his party supporters, four fellow Eirigi members were sentenced to six years in jail at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin for possession of firearms and handguns.

Trinity PhD student Ursula Shannon (30) of Clonsilla, Dublin and her co-accused John McGreal (37), from Rush, and Colin Brady (24), of Kinsealy, both Co. Dublin, were found guilty of the offences after a short trial.

A fourth co-accused, John Troy (34) of Cabra, Dublin had pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of the same Taurus pistol, magazine, Walther P5 pistol and one ZGJY branded combined stun gun and flashlight on the same date.

Stephen Murney stated it was not his place to condemn the actions of any republican.