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THE FULTON FILES: LVF boss 'Swinger' Fulton planned to escape, the keys of his jail wing went missing for 48hrs; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: LINDSAY FERGUS

TODAY the Daily Mirror lifts the lid off a series of scandals which are set to rock the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

An in-depth investigation into Maghaberry jail - home to 700 inmates and 900 prison staff - has unearthed corruption and a high- level cover-up. We can exclusively reveal:

A PRISON officer has been questioned by police about the disappearance of the keys to the unit in which Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Mark "Swinger" Fulton was being held before his suicide

FULTON was planning an escape bid with the help of bent prison workers days before he died

THE terror chief was removed from jail by Special Branch handlers for days at a time yet prison records claim he never left the grounds

TRACES of drugs were found in Fulton's body

SOME prison officers had been tipping off Fulton when raids were going to be carried out on his cell

OTHER officers turned a blind eye to Fulton's involvement in sexual liaisons during one-to-one prison visits

THE 42-year-old was on suicide watch (known as IRM21) yet records do not show that the balance of his mind was disturbed.

Fulton, on remand for conspiracy to murder during the LVF's feud with rival terror group the UVF, was found dead in his cell in Maghaberry Prison, Co Antrim, in the early hours of June 10.

He was found with a belt around his neck and it was widely believed he took his own life after suffering severe bouts of depression.

He had made the belt in the jail workshop.

The Director of the Prison Service and Secretary of State John Reid have ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Prison officers in Mourne House where Fulton was held on remand have already given their depositions to the inquiry panel which is made up of high-ranking English prison officials.

But the Daily Mirror can bring you the full shocking truth of events in the run-up to the loyalist's alleged suicide.

And we can also reveal that the police have launched a secret investigation into the shady goings-on inside Maghaberry.

One prison officer has already been questioned by the PSNI about the disappearance of keys to Fulton's unit.

A security source told the Daily Mirror: "A prison officer voluntarily attended a local police station after it emerged that keys from Maghaberry Prison had been removed without permission.

"The person in question made a statement and was later released without charge."

A Government insider confirmed that someone had been questioned about the security breach.

The insider said: "Keys to Mourne House were not returned to their designated location for a 48-hour period.

"They were removed prior to Mark Fulton's death and they were not replaced until after he had died and as a result of these findings the police were called in."

The prison officer at the centre of that allegation has not been suspended.

The insider said: "It is an offence to remove Home Office keys but the prison officer has not been suspended from duty."

The Daily Mirror has also discovered that Fulton, under considerable pressure to turn supergrass, was planning to escape days before his death. Assistance from some prison employees has not yet been ruled out.

Swinger had been talking to police for around six months and it is understood that he may have fingered up to 20 leading loyalists in the LVF and UVF in that period.

The high-risk prisoner had been housed in an isolation unit but not, as it has been claimed, because he was deemed to be liable to be a danger to himself. He had been segregated from the other prisoners on his wing, which included female prisoners, asylum-seekers, paramilitaries and ordinary criminals because the cops were desperate to ensure his safety.

Although it was rumoured that Fulton had lost a lot of credibility within the LVF's ranks he was still regarded as a powerful figure by the authorities.

A security source said: "Within Mourne House there is a supergrass unit called the Delta Unit. That is where Fulton was housed.

"Security is so tight in the Delta Unit that any prison officer who works there has to be second vetted, which means they have to go through additional security checks." The insider continued: "Swinger was under considerable pressure from Special Branch.

"He had even written to the Secretary of State after he was refused Christmas parole requesting a meeting.

"He said he had been working as a mediator for the LVF and his work had prevented people from being killed. But the request was denied after the NIO took advice from Special Branch.

"He was on verge of losing control of the LVF to Robin "Billy" King and he was about to turn supergrass so they were giving him no options.

"Fulton was at the cross-roads. He had to decide did he become a supergrass or go back to his own before he was rumbled."

On numerous occasions Fulton had been taken out of Maghaberry for questioning.

But according to prison records he never left the site of Northern Ireland's main jail.

One prison source said: "There were days he was taken out to various stations by the police but on paper it appeared as if he never left the prison. Every possible step was taken to ensure Fulton's colleagues did not suspect his double life.

"The police treated him like a hero. All the concessions that were made for him were sickening."

Around the same time Fulton started making a series of complaints about a number of illnesses.

A prison source said: "He started to complain about being ill. He claimed that he could not sleep and he was passing water all the time.

"He complained continually so the prison doctors decided to send him to an outside hospital for tests. He was under a lot of pressure but it was believed his condition was psychosomatic.

"However, the authorities did not want to take the risk of something being wrong with him and then coming back to haunt them."

Documents seen by the Daily Mirror indicate that Fulton had no medical complaints or mental conditions at the time of his arrest last December.

A police memo described Fulton as "suspected of being an exceptional risk" stated that he was "likely to try escape", "is associated with a dangerous gang who may attempt rescue" and "may be charged with other offences".

The form indicates that Fulton was not deemed to have suicidal tendencies or physical illness or mental disturbance.

A second police record describes the loyalist's health as "good".

When asked in a prison questionnaire if he had any medical complaints, Fulton's response was "no". But only months later, when the LVF member was meeting police, he complained of feeling ill.

He had undergone a series of tests in the prison hospital and was due to attend the gastroenterology clinic at Belfast City Hospital on the day he died. A second appointment for an ultrasound investigation of the kidneys had also been arranged for the end of the month.

A prison source said: "It was discovered there was going to be an attempt for him do a runner and perhaps with the assistance of staff.

"Fulton was a high-risk prisoner and a police escort to take him to hospital had been arranged."

Fulton made a series of complaints to his Portadown-based solicitor that his physical well- being was not being treated seriously and as a result his legal advisers contacted the prison authorities.

Last month, Fulton even refused food because he felt not enough was being done to ensure he saw an outside specialist.

Within days a senior unionist politician wrote to the Secretary of State regarding Fulton's medical situation after correspondence from the LVF boss' mother.

He stated "Fulton had been ill with a duodenal ulcer and germs in his stomach before entering prison" and that the family doctor believed he should be admitted to "an outside hospital for urgent treatment".

The letter said Mrs Fulton was unhappy with the prison doctor and had warned that if anything happened to her son she would be holding the prison responsible.

The politician told the Secretary of State: "I would be grateful if you would enquire into the situation relating to Mark Fulton's well- being in Maghaberry Prison."

But a Government source has revealed that Fulton's postmortem results tell a different story.

He said: "After the postmortem it was said he had the body of a racehorse. There was no mention of any ulcer or kidney problems."

But the postmortem revealed that traces of drugs were found in Fulton's body.

Fulton had been a close friend of Billy "King Rat" Wright who was gunned down by the INLA inside the Maze Prison in December 1997.

The former LVF leader's death was a devastating blow to Fulton who had been Wright's second in command.

And it was known that Fulton had feared that a similar murder bid would be made on his life.

Police had advised the terror boss just weeks after he went to jail that his life was in danger.

A security source said: "Intelligence discovered that a senior dissident republican was planning a hit on Fulton inside Maghaberry."

A loyalist source said: "The visit by the cops really put the wind up Swinger."

Despite all the concerns about Fulton, prison sources claim he was virtually given a free hand within Mourne House.

One said: "Fulton's power in Maghaberry came from the information he knew.

"He had what Special Branch wanted and they pulled out a lot of stops to get him talking.

"Fulton was out of control and was allowed to do whatever he wanted.

"There are three levels of comfort for prisoners - basic, standard and enhanced - Fulton was on enhanced despite being internally disciplined for bad behaviour.

"Just before Swinger's death a series of regimes had to be brought in to control his behaviour which he did not take kindly to."

And another prison official confirmed that Fulton had been given numerous special privileges.

"They were allowed one to one visiting sessions in a room which was watched not by prison officers but video cameras.

"On more than one occasion Fulton was caught on tape engaging in a sex act during these visiting sessions."

It is widely known that Fulton took drugs but it has come to light the top loyalist was tipped off before raids on his cell.

A prison source said: "There were a series of searches and we were deliberately hitting Fulton's unit a lot more because we knew drugs were getting in.

"Every month we take a prisoner and test them and a urine test on Fulton showed that he had taken cannabis and LSD.

"The sinister side of all this is that it was found that certain officers were giving Fulton prior warnings. No one was ever suspended.

"The Special Search Team (SST) had to be smuggled in to try and catch Fulton unawares."

TOMORROW: MORE SHOCKING REVELATIONS ABOUT PRISON LIFE

CAPTION(S):

Fulton's death in The Mirror; TOP SECURITY: Maghaberry is Northern Ireland's man jail for terrorists; IDOL: Murdered LVF boss King Rat; GUN SALUTE: LVF gang in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, mark Fulton's death
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 28, 2002
Words:1871
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