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Grandparents denied an open visit to republican prisoner complain to prison ombudsman's office

Prisoner Ombudsman to investigate complaint about the handling of the passive drugs dog at Maghaberry.

THE Prisoner Ombudsman is being asked to investigate an incident during which the elderly grandparents of a sentenced republican prisoner were refused an open visit.

A complaint has been made to the ombudsman's office after relatives of west Belfast man Connor Hughes (25) say a dog trained to detect drugs approached them when they were being processed for a visit last Wednesday.

The couple aged in their mid and late 70s, say prison staff told them that this meant they either had drugs on their person or had been in contact with illegal substances.

In circumstances where a passive drugs detection dog sits in front of visitors, they are refused a visit or offered a closed visit with a glass panel between visitors and the prisoner.

A spokesperson for Cogús, a prisoner support group who represent a number of republican prisoners in Maghaberry, said the pensioners were "confused and distressed" by the accusation that they had been in contact with drugs.

Separated prisoners do not take closed visits and so the couple left without seeing their grandson.

Their grandson is currently serving an 11 year jail term for possession of a blast bomb style device.

There have been questions raised in the past about the use of trained drugs dogs and the ability of a handler to influence the animal's reaction.

A spokesperson for Cogús said; "His grandparents are deeply distressed as a result of this incident".

"Cogás are in no doubt that the absurd allegation of being in contact with illicit substances is unfounded.

"Unfortunately the behaviour of the jail administration as seen in the past and confirmed in the present, that neither the young children nor the elderly are on the outside of their sphere of targeting".

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