Prison officers receive national commendation from Princess Royal

Date published: 27 March 2018


The Head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour, has praised the ‘dedication and commitment’ of two prison officers at Maghaberry who have been presented with a national award by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal.

John Bell and Neil Rippon received a prestigious commendation from the Butler Trust at St James’s Palace in London. The pair, who were nominated by a prisoner, received the award for their commitment to the Family Matters project, an initiative with Barnado’s NI, which brings hope, trust, and reconciliation for fathers in prison and their families.

After the presentations, The Princess talked to John and Neil, alongside their fellow winners, over afternoon tea in the Palace State Rooms.

Ronnie Armour, was among the audience of over 200 to attend the presentation. Speaking afterwards he said:  “John and Neil have brought great honour to the Northern Ireland Prison Service and are very deserving of this commendation. I know their commitment and dedication in the Family Matters project has helped to restore and rebuild relationships for many fathers in prison and their families.”

Maghaberry Governor, David Kennedy said: “John and Neil have been architects in helping to mould the Family Matters project which has gained widespread acclaim for its efforts in reducing re-offending, challenging people and supporting them to change and providing a new and innovative way to motivate offenders and to show them a better road to take when they’re released. With over half a century of service between them, they are held in the highest regard by their peers, their managers and by prisoners alike, and are shining examples of the cultural change within the Northern Ireland Prison Service."

He concluded, “John and Neil should be immensely proud of their endeavours, because the entire workforce and many prisoners are proud and grateful for the positive impact they have had on their lives.”

Prisoners have also added their own personal testimonials. One prisoner named Lee, said: “I can’t put into words what these two outstanding gentlemen have done for me. My family has the utmost respect for John and Neil. They contacted them regularly to make sure they were okay and to reassure them I was okay.”

Another, Trevor, said of John and Neil: “By a mile the most unselfish, genuine and best people I have ever met who, no matter what day or time, will give you 100% of their support.”

Simon Shepherd, Director of the Butler Trust, said:  “It’s easy to forget that there’s an unsung army of people behind the criminal justice headlines. Every day, these hidden heroes do remarkable and inspiring work on behalf of the public. Our winners show the very best of this sector, and that’s very good indeed.”

Speaking about John Bell and Neil Rippon, the Chair of the Butler Trust’s independent awarding panel, Sir Michael Harrison said: “John and Neill are a remarkable pair of prison officers, and their Family Matters project brings hope, trust, and reconciliation to fathers in prison, and to their families, and we were particularly impressed by the impact they have had.”

Notes to editors: 

1. A rights free, high res image of HRH The Princess Royal presenting John Bell and Neill Rippon with their commendation can be found here:

2. HRH The Princess Royal has been Patron of the Butler Trust since it was founded in 1985, hosting the Trust’s Annual Award Ceremony and visiting many of their award winners and commendees in their places of work afterwards. Named in memory of former Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary, R. A. (Rab) Butler, Baron Butler of Saffron Walden, the Butler Trust Awards are the most prestigious awards of their kind, and recognise and celebrate outstanding practice by people working in criminal justice settings. The awards are judged by an independent panel made up of Butler Trust trustees, and current and former prison and probation staff.

3. John and Neill, prison officers at Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland, were nominated by a prisoner and are Commended for their role in the Family Matters project, which is facilitated by Barnardo’s NI, and which brings hope, trust, and reconciliation to prisoners and their families.

4. For all media enquiries, please contact the DOJ Press Office on 028 9052 6444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07623 974 383 and your call will be returned.

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