Tyrone dissident republican wins right to challenge strip searches

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A dissident republican jailed for having guns and explosives has won the right to mount a legal challenge to being subjected to strip searches while held in isolation.

Lawyers representing Gavin Coyle, 37, claim he has to undergo an unlawful and humiliating process.

Granting leave for him to seek a judicial review, a High Court judge stressed the need for “a bit of humanity” in searches.

Coyle, formerly of Culmore Park in Omagh, Co Tyrone, was jailed for 10 years in January.

He was arrested in 2011 when detectives investigating the murder of newly qualified policeman Ronan Kerr discovered an arms dump at a lock-up garage near Coalisland.

Items seized included Semtex plastic explosive; four AK47 assault rifles, ammunition and magazines; a booster for an RPG rocket; three bomb timer units; a number of electronic incendiary devices; components of an improvised PRIG grenade; explosive powder and detonating cord.

Coyle pleaded guilty to possession of explosives and firearms with intent to endanger life and membership of a proscribed organisation, namely the group that styles itself as the “new IRA”.

He is due to serve half of his sentence in custody and the other half on licence.

Within HMP Maghaberry he is being held in a closed supervision unit due to alleged threats against him from other paramilitary groupings.

His legal representatives claim that apart from prison staff the only people he comes into contact with are family visitors and his solicitors.

Coyle is escorted to video-link facilities to speak to lawyers and then returned to the isolation unit, according to his case.

Judicial review proceedings centre on the alleged strip searches around those visits.

The process is in breach of his privacy entitlements under the European Convention on Human Rights, it is claimed.

At a hearing today to establish whether Coyle has an arguable case, Mr Justice Weir questioned why searches were allegedly carried out after video consultations.

He said prisoners should not be treated in an “unnecessarily degrading fashion”.

Granting leave to seek a judicial review, the judge listed the case for a full hearing in January.

Outside court Coyle’s solicitor, Paul Pierce of KRW Law, claimed a Body Orifice Security Scanner (BOSS) chair should be made available to all prisoners.

“There’s clearly a less humiliating, intrusive and invasive search procedure,” he said.

“The BOSS chair has been present at HMP Maghaberry for the last number of years - the question remains why this can’t be utilised throughout the prison as an alternative to strip searches.”