Smoking ban and short staffing 'sparked prison riot'

Interior of Erlestoke prison cell
Image caption Tensions rose at HMP Erlestoke after inmates were ordered to remain in their cells

A ban on smoking and short-staffing led to a prison riot causing "many thousands of pounds worth of damage", a court has heard.

Prisoners broke out of their cells at HMP Erlestoke in Wiltshire on 11 June 2016.

Officers were forced to evacuate the Category C jail, while 120 prisoners were transferred to other prisons.

Luke Needham, 30, Andrew Alford, 41, and Deno Harrison, 23, are on trial charged with prison mutiny.

Needham refused to comment when questioned by police while Harrison said he had smoked the drug Spice and could not remember his actions.

Prosecutor Rob Welling said Alford told police he had not intended to commit mutiny and said his "mental health was bad that day and he broke out of his cell because he could not breathe".

'Very unpleasant'

Mr Welling said tensions rose during the Saturday after prisoners at the jail near Devizes were ordered to remain in their cells for the day because of a shortage of prison staff.

This combined with the trial of a national smoking ban and the late delivery of meals created an atmosphere that was "very unpleasant and threatening".

Needham is alleged to have set fire to his cell and flooded it, before kicking open his cell door and helping other prisoners to escape.

Image caption About 120 HMP Erlestoke inmates were transferred to nearby jails after the disturbance in 2016

"Prison officers were very short-staffed and heavily outnumbered, and they took the decision they would have to evacuate," Mr Welling said.

"They grabbed their things and what they considered to be important confidential papers and left the wing."

He said Needham and Harrison managed to get onto the roof and refused to come down until after midnight.

After calm was restored on the Sunday, 120 prisoners had to be rehoused at prisons around the country and damage had been caused to cells, windows and CCTV systems, the court heard.

The trial at Winchester Crown Court continues.