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Co Antrim man puts Maghaberry Prison jail land up for sale

Stephen Boyes has put the land on which Maghaberry Prison sits up for sale. Picture by Mal McCann.
Connla Young

'FOR sale' signs have appeared around top security Maghaberry Prison after being put on the market by a Co Antrim man who claims to own the land.

The prison facility is located on 340 acres of prime land and is currently up for grabs with an asking price of £5 million.

Stephen Boyes from Maghaberry claims he is the rightful owner of the land which belongs to a trust set up by his grandfather almost 60 years ago.

The Co Antrim man has been involved in a complicated legal wrangle over the ownership of the site and claims the trust is owed millions in backdated ground rent.

He even made a complaint to police over who is the rightful owner of the land.

However the claim is disputed by the Prison Service which insists the "registered ownership resides with the department (of justice)".

Mr Boyes claims the prison was built on the site of a former World War Two airfield in the 1940’s on land owned by his family.

The land was bought back by the family in 1957 by Mr Boyes’s grandfather Edward and placed in a trust three years later.

Mr Boyes claims some of the land was vested for a second time in the 1970’s when plans for the prison were being finalised.

In the intervening years the trustees have changed and now include Mr Boyes’s wife and daughter.

He claims that the original seizure of his family’s land was not properly carried out and the trust set up by his family retains a “freehold” on the ground the prison is built on.

He said that at the time £280,000 in compensation was paid to the then trustees.

“The vesting is void,” he said.

“When they started to build the prison in 1976 the land should never have been taken out of the trustees names because the compensation was only paid for loss of use.”

Mr Boyes also maintains that the trust holds the “pre-emptive rights” on the ground which means that if the authorities ever decide to sell off the prison they must give the trust first refusal.

Estate agent Robert Wilson, who has been instructed by the trustees of ET Boyes Trust Settlement 1961 to conduct the sale, said there has been interest in the land.

“We have interest in the agricultural land and interest in the old airfield but no formal offers,” he said.

“I am selling the pre-emptive rights of the land it’s on,” he said.

Mr Wilson also revealed he has been contacted by officials from the Prison Service asking him to take the for sale signs down.

“I said I would consult with the trustees where my instructions came from and that’s what I did.”

According to Mr Wilson’s website the plot also includes two 8,600 square foot warehouses and “zoning for third phase prison”.

A spokesman for the Prison Service said: “The land and buildings of Maghaberry Prison are not for sale and the registered ownership resides with the department.

“This matter is with our legal team and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

In a statement the PSNI said that it received allegations of fraud in relation to the Maghaberry site but said “that there was no evidence that a fraud had occurred and the police investigation concluded in September 2013”.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman said a complaint containing a number of allegations of police misconduct in relation to this issue had been received and were the subject of an investigation by the office.

Case referred to 'Special Branch' 

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has referred Mr Boyes’s case to the PSNI’s C3 intelligence branch, which was formerly known as ‘Special Branch’.

The development came after the Co Antrim man wrote to NCA director general Lynne Owens. In her response sent last month Ms Owens said the unit was unable to deal with allegations of fraud directly from a member of the public.

Advising Mr Boyes to contact Action Fraud she also confirmed that her agency’s Anti Corruption Unit has examined “concerns” raised by him about the Prison Service but that there were “no grounds for the NCA to investigate”.

She said the agency has been in touch with the PSNI’s Prison Liaison Unit and “they have advised they are continuing to investigate.

She also said the NCA has forwarded a copy of his correspondence to the PSNI Crime Operations Department (Intelligence Branch), which was formerly known as ‘Special Branch’.

However, Mr Boyes says he also wrote to chief constable George Hamilton last year and in response was told the PSNI’s Economic Crime Unit had assessed his claims which did not meet the criteria for a criminal investigation.

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