In most Christian countries, it’s safe to say that no one really cares what denomination of Christianity people follow; it’s probably equal to someone’s eye colour in terms of relevance. Those who wish to hold prejudiced beliefs usually direct them at another race or religion, not variations of the same religion.In Northern Ireland, it’s an entirely different kettle of fish; having a traditionally Catholic surname is enough to get you shot dead in the Protestant part of town, and vice versa. Terry Daniels knows this better than anyone, as she once found herself locked up on an all-Catholic wing in a maximum security prison after being falsely accused of terrorist offences. She was allocated this wing despite being a Protestant, because she had a Catholic-sounding name.
Considering the fact that they still have physical walls in place separating Protestant and Catholic areas 11 years after the IRA decommissioned its weapons, it’s clear that back then, whilst sectarianism was still at an all time high, this placed her in danger. She was forced to keep her true religion and the nature of her crime a secret for fear of attack. I caught up with her to find out how she went about doing this in a country where the locals are notorious for being able to recognise people’s religious denominations, and the psychological toll that it had on her.
Transgression: How did you end up in prison in Northern Ireland in the first place?
Terry: I’m English, but originally moved to Northern Ireland with a lad I’d met on holiday in Tenerife. Being English over there means that you’re restricted to only being able to associate with the Protestants. The Catholics hate all Brits because they detest the idea that Northern Ireland is part of Britain. A lot of the Protestants that I got to know there had quite strong sectarian views, and unbeknownst to me, one of them decided to store a firearm, some ammunition, and a bomb in my house. He had let himself in with a spare key I’d given him whilst he was looking after the place, while I was visiting my family in England.
That doesn’t sound too good.
No, it wasn’t! The first I knew about it was when policemen and army men came to my house to do a search. They then put me on remand in a notorious prison called HMP Maghaberry. I was accused of being a member of a terrorist group called the UDA.
They’re Protestants, right?
Yeah, they’re one of the main Protestant paramilitary groups, the other big one being the UVF. The division in Northern Ireland actually goes even deeper than just the Catholic/Protestant divide. Some areas are divided in terms of which paramilitary groups dominate them as well, for example, you might have separate UVF and UDA areas. The UVF and UDA actually hated each other because the members of one sold drugs and committed crime to fund their weapons, and the other didn’t agree with it.
Anyway, I was charged with terrorist offences, and also told that if the gun was linked to any killings, I might also be done for murder. The police found a message on my phone that said ‘That was a great result tonight’, and thought it must have been referring to some kind of attack or act of violence. It was actually referring to a football match, but they didn’t believe me! They had me down as some kind of terrorist hit woman.
That sounds intense.
Yeah, you can say that again!
Were most of the other inmates in Maghaberry in for terrorist offences?
It was a mixture of people in for sectarian and non-sectarian offences. It’s basically reserved for the maddest, baddest and craziest inmates regardless of whether their crimes are sectarian or not. Previous residents include notorious UDA leader Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair, well-known UVF commander Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright, and infamous Real IRA bomber Marian Price.
Can you give examples of what some of the other people had done to land themselves in there whilst you were there?
One was caught with a bomb in her shed, a lot were in for other terrorist offences, and there was a girl who had decapitated her boyfriend. Her fella had been knocking her about, so it wasn’t unprovoked, but the way she talked about it scared me. She seemed completely unbothered by it, and spoke about it as if it was the most normal thing in the world to have done. She was absolutely nuts.
How did the other inmates take to a lone English girl?
I told them I was half English and half Irish, and that my dad had insisted on raising me as a Catholic. Luckily, I’d been kept in the police station for 3 days before being transported to Maghaberry, so by the time I reached the prison, my crime wasn’t being mentioned in the media any more. It wasn’t high-profile enough to have made the papers, but had been on Teletext [a text information service that was available on British TVs until 2012].
Was it easy keeping the pretence up?
Yeah it was actually, because a lot of the other prisoners seemed to be on heavy doses of medication. I think a lot had mental illnesses. That meant they weren’t too focussed on what was going on with me. The fact that they had all done quite serious things meant that they were more focussed on their own situations as well.
The fact that Maghaberry is such a high-security prison also meant that I rarely had to mix with the other inmates. It was almost like being in solitary confinement. Obviously, it’s not great being cooped up in a cell on your own all day, but it meant that the other prisoners didn’t have much time to discover my true religion.
I bet it was a bit nerve-wracking being in there, though.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, let’s put it that way! Saying that, I don’t know what would have happened to me on the Protestant wing, what with me having a Catholic-sounding name. I think they maybe didn’t put me on the Protestant wing because they knew I would’ve got trouble for that. People’s names are one of the main ways the Northern Irish can tell what religion they are. There are other ways though, for example, the way people dress. Some of the Protestants have items of clothing with union jack flags on to display the fact they think Northern Ireland should be part of the UK, and the Catholics have certain clothes that they tend to gravitate towards as well.
How did you clear your name in the end?
My QC pointed out that the cupboard the weapons and ammunition were found in was so full of junk that anything could have been hidden there without my knowledge. He also pointed out that the picture and the fireplace that they were hidden behind were covered in dust at the time of my arrest, which was proof they hadn’t been moved for a while, and suggested that I didn’t know they were there. None of my fingerprints were on the weapons, either. Surely if I was keeping them safe for someone, I would have handled them at some point! The lad who had stashed them in my house was also caught letting himself in shortly after I was arrested, and pled guilty to terrorist offences. All things considered, there was a lot of evidence in my favour, and I ended up getting a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict.
Do you think it was a good idea to have the prison segregated? It doesn’t seem that conducive to encouraging integration.
It was definitely needed, because it would have been a bloodbath if they’d mixed the two religions.
What was the psychological impact of having to keep your true identity hidden during your time inside?
You’ve got to remember that Northern Ireland was like a different world to England. Living your daily life could be like walking around in a field of landmines at times. It wasn’t as if you were free to go into a Catholic area and disclose that you were a Protestant in the outside world, so it was similar to Northern Irish society in general in some ways. Saying that, it definitely wasn’t great, let’s put it that way!
You can read more about Terry’s time behind bars in Northern Ireland in her book Passport to Hell.
Words by Nick Chester. Follow him @Nickchesterv