Swaleside Prison: Wing reclaimed after inmates take control

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Part of a prison wing that was taken over by about 60 inmates has been reclaimed, the Prison Service has said.

Specialist "Tornado" teams were sent into HMP Swaleside, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, after a disturbance at about 19:00 GMT on Thursday.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said all those involved at the category B jail had "surrendered and were back in cells by 1am".

No prisoners or staff were injured, she added. A police inquiry is under way.

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The disturbance happened less than a week after inmates at HMP Birmingham rioted for 12 hours - the latest in a number of disturbances in the past two months.

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Image caption Inmates took over part of a wing, from where this picture is believed to have been sent

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and former home secretaries Ken Clarke and Jacqui Smith have said the incident at Birmingham should act as a "wake up call".

In a letter to the Times, they said jails had become unacceptably dangerous and called for inmate populations to be reduced by about half from their present levels to 45,000.

The Prison Service said "challenges in our prisons are longstanding and won't be solved overnight".

But, it added, Justice Secretary Liz Truss was "committed to making sure our prisons are stable while we deliver wholesale reforms to the prison estate to help offenders turn their lives around and reduce reoffending".

Latest unrest in England's prisons

Image caption A riot at Birmingham Prison lasted more than 12 hours
  • HMP Birmingham - 16 December - Specialist riot squads were deployed after a riot broke out involving hundreds of inmates and lasted more than 12 hours.
  • HMP Bedford - 6 November - A riot saw up to 200 inmates go on the rampage, flooding the jail's gangways.
  • HMP Lewes - 29 October - A national response unit had to be brought in to control the prisoners at the East Sussex jail during a disturbance which lasted for six hours.

'I lived in fear every day'

HMP Swaleside is a category B jail, which houses 1,100 male prisoners serving terms of more than four years. It has eight wings made up of single cells.

During the disturbance, the Prison Service said the incident had been "contained to one landing on A Wing".

The A wing of the prison houses the Open Academy, a study centre with a computer suite.

The rest of the jail was put on "lockdown" while the prison was brought back under control.

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Media captionMike Rolfe, chairman of the Prison Officers Association

Earlier, Prison Officers Association (POA) chairman Mike Rolfe said fires had been lit.

Mr Rolfe described Swaleside as "a particularly difficult place to work".

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Media captionFootage from inside HMP Swaleside

He said: "Staff recruitment and retention there has been poor.

"In the last few years they've lost lots of experienced staff and new recruits haven't wanted to stick the job out due to the toxic nature of the job."

Gordon Henderson, Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, said prison officers are better off financially if they get a job in a local warehouse than if they stay in the prison service.

"They've got to pay prison officers what they're worth," he said.

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Media captionGordon Henderson says prison officers are better off working in warehouses

A man claiming to be an inmate at the jail contacted the BBC and said the unrest had been sparked when officers raided cells.

He made further claims, which have not been verified, that the use of inexperienced staff and a reduction in certain privileges had caused "tension" between prison officers and inmates.

An HM Inspectorate of Prisons report in July said the centre was used by 50 of the 126 prisoners on the wing, who were enrolled on open and distance learning courses.

The report described the prison as "dangerous" and found levels of violence at the jail were "far too high" with many incidents classed as serious.

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Image caption Vans were seen arriving at Swaleside at the height of the disturbance
Image copyright PA
Image caption The Prison Officers Association said fires had been lit inside the jail

Some 550 prisoners were moved to other jails after last week's Birmingham riot was quelled, but the Ministry of Justice did not say whether any had been sent to Swaleside.

Richard Burgeon, Labour's shadow justice secretary, told the BBC: "In July the Independent Monitoring Board said this prison is not safe and staff shortage is the major cause.

"As with Birmingham prison, the public will once again wonder what action the justice secretary actually took in response to the board's concerns.

"She needs to tell us."

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Media captionFormer prison governor tells Radio 4's Today prison riots can be prevented with improved relationships.

John Podmore, a former prison governor at HMP Swaleside, said: "We should be sending fewer people to jail in absolute terms but we need to be looking at who we are locking up, why we are locking them up and how we deal with the way in which they are offending against society.

"We need a much more subtle approach than what we have at the moment."

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Image caption HMP Swaleside has a capacity of up to 1,100 prisoners

At the scene: Peter Whittlesea, BBC South East reporter

A clearer sense of what happened is coming to light. The Prison Officers Association said there were disputes between inmates and prison staff over how many hours people would be locked up over Christmas.

There were raids of cells where personal possessions were then confiscated.

After that a riot broke out and prison officers lost control and retreated.

Prisoners were brandishing snooker balls which are often used as weapons and they let off fire extinguishers.

Tornado squads were brought in and by 01:00 the wing was under control.

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