The governor of Northern Ireland's main high security prison has resigned less than five months after taking up the post.

Steve Rodford took charge of HMP Maghaberry near Lisburn in July after his predecessor left in the wake of a major controversy sparked by the suicide of an inmate who was supposed to be under observation.

But the new governor has also encountered problems in his tenure, including another prisoner suicide and the discovery of bomb making parts during a major search operation.

The NI Prison Service said Mr Rodford, who was on secondment to Maghaberry, was cutting short his time in Northern Ireland for ‘personal and domestic reasons’.

He is returning to England to take up a position at the headquarters of the Prison Service in London.

Despite his short time in post, NIPS director Robin Masefield said Mr Rodford has succeeded in achieving very substantial progress at the prison since the summer.

A spokesman for Mr Masefield added: ‘In particular, progress has been made in the key areas of developing a culture of care and accountability, and improving performance and delivery.’

He said Mr Masefield regretted Mr Rodford's departure, but respected his reasons.

Maghaberry holds many of Northern Ireland's most dangerous offenders, including dissident republican terrorists opposed to the peace process.

Last month bomb-making parts were found during a four day search of a high-security facility ordered by Mr Rodford.
The components of a crude device - including wires, batteries and lead piping - were buried in a garden used by inmates near the perimeter fence.

The find came weeks after traces of the explosive Semtex were reportedly identified during another search of cells.

Meanwhile in October, four prison medics were suspended from duty following an investigation into the suicide of an inmate.

The staff worked in the medical centre where convicted sex offender John Anthony Deery, 50, was found hanging in August, a month after Mr Rodford took charge.

His death came a year after another prisoner - 34-year-old Colin Bell - hanged himself in the jail and only five weeks after a damning inspectors' report on safety standards criticised the monitoring procedures for vulnerable inmates.

Staff were disciplined after an independent probe into Bell's death discovered that wardens who were supposed to be checking the high-risk inmate were lying on beds watching TV.

Mr Rodford was appointed following the controversy with the task of improving monitoring procedures.