Dissident jailed for murder of policeman Stephen Carroll launches legal action against Prison Service
A dissident republican jailed for the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll has launched legal action over an alleged denial of access to online resources for his degree studies.
Brendan McConville claims the Prison Service failed to ensure he can safely use computer facilities to complete an Open University course in criminology and psychology.
The 48-year-old is among 40 republican and loyalist inmates being held within a separated regime at the high security HMP Maghaberry.
His lawyers told the High Court today he is being unlawfully treated differently from integrated prisoners who can access the learning and skills unit.
But counsel for the Prison Service rejected assertions that he was never offered use of the education suite, stressing it is open to all within the jail.
McConville, from Craigavon, Co Armagh, is serving at least 25 years behind bars for the murder of Constable Carroll ten years ago.
A second man, 28-year-old John Paul Wootton, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was handed a minimum 18-year term for his part in the assassination.
Constable Carroll, 48, was the first police officer to be killed in Northern Ireland after the formation of the PSNI.
He was ambushed and shot dead by dissident republicans as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009.
A circumstantial case involving DNA evidence helped to secure the murder convictions, including gun residue on a coat linked to McConville recovered from a car said to have been used by the killers.
He is now in the final stages of a Bachelor of Science honours degree in criminology and psychology studies.
Seeking to judicially review the Prison Service, McConville's barrister claimed a failure to provide access to the necessary internet resources.
Counsel told Mr Justice McCloskey his client was in segregation at Maghaberry for safety reasons.
He argued that it was irrational for the authorities to say McConville can use the facilities by simply leaving the separate regime.
"That highlights a lack of logic at the heart of the difference in treatment," the barrister said.
Laura McMahon, for the Prison Service, responded that the online resources are located in a special unit rather than any accommodation block.
"That's a facility available to all prisoners," she added.
Deferring the legal challenge to October, Mr Justice McCloskey said it would allow time to consider a report into learning opportunities for separated inmates and any potential complaint to the Prisoner Ombudsman.
Outside court McConville's lawyer, Gavin Booth, said: "Prisoners should be entitled to access to education and online resources. Our client is completing a degree and needs access to online articles in order to obtain
the best possible mark."