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240 inmates moved out after four wings damaged in Birmingham Prison riot

Some 240 prisoners are being moved out of HMP Birmingham after a riot at one of the country's biggest jails.

Hundreds of inmates were caught up in the disorder and four wings at the privately-run jail were damaged during the disturbances on Friday, which lasted for more than 12 hours.

Riot squads were deployed to the category B prison run by G4S after reports of prisoners setting fire to stairwells and destroying paper records.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Two hundred and forty prisoners are being transferred out of HMP Birmingham following a serious disturbance.

"The prison remains calm and ordered with additional staff on site to offer support. The Prison Service will continue to work closely with G4S to manage the prison safely over the coming days.

"A full assessment of the damage is under way. Initial reports indicate that two wings suffered superficial damage, with more serious damage to a further two wings.

"A limited regime is being offered to those who were not involved in the disturbance and staff continue to work closely with West Midlands Police.

"A thorough investigation into the disturbance is under way."

The city centre jail, formerly known as Winson Green, can hold up to 1,450 inmates, but it is understood around 260 prisoners were caught up in the incident.

Specially-trained prison guards, known as "Tornado" squads, from other parts of the country were backed up by around 25 riot police as they moved into the privately-run facility late on Friday.

One man, believed to be in his 20s, was taken to hospital with a facial injury as well as cuts, bruises and a reduced consciousness, West Midlands Ambulance Service said. N o prison staff were injured.

Rodger Lawrence, chairman of the Birmingham Prison independent monitoring board, said its last report to the Government had recommended a review of the number of staff needed for the contract.

It follows comments from Mike Rolfe, national chairman of the Prison Officers Association, who previously protested over safety concerns and told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight that more than 30 staff had left the jail in recent weeks.

Mr Lawrence told BBC Breakfast: "We believe things have significantly changed since the contract was drawn up, and they do actually need more staff in prisons."

G4S has run the prison since 2011 when it became the first public-sector jail to be privatised.

He said the violence did not "come as a complete shock".

"There's been a feeling and a build-up in the prison of frustration, both on behalf of the prisoners and the staff, about the way conditions were," he said. "But it wasn't something that we were saying at the beginning of the week that we needed to be really worried because there's likely to be something of this serious consequence."

He told the programme that a significant factor in the changes in the prison situation is the use of legal highs, and these turn people from being "fairly mild and reasonable" into something "like the Incredible Hulk".

Chief executive of the National Offender Management Service Agency Michael Spurr said gang-related violence and violence fuelled by psychoactive drugs had "really changed the dynamic" in prisons but promised to "turn it around".

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme he said: "Where we are at this moment with our prisons is not where I or anybody, I think, in society would want to be, but I'm confident that we can change that, and we now are getting resources for the first time in a number of years that will enable us to do it.

"It will not be done overnight. There are serious problems that will require determined consistent leadership from governors and staff across the service to put right, but they are incredibly professional, skilled professionals, and with this resource, over the coming months and years, we will turn it around."

The latest disturbance is the third in English prisons in less than two months.

On November 6 a riot at category B Bedford Prison saw up to 200 inmates go on the rampage, flooding the jail's gangways in chaotic scenes.

Just days earlier, on October 29, a national response unit had to be brought in to control prisoners during an incident at HMP Lewes in East Sussex.

Mr Rolfe told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight that he had been warning about the prison crisis for "a long time" and said Friday's trouble was the "most recent worst incident" since the notorious Strangeways riot 26 years ago.

A spokesman from the Prison Governors Association said the disturbance at the Birmingham jail "comes at a very difficult time for Noms (National Offender Management Service) on the back of recent riots and at a time when the prison estate is already bursting at the seams".

Jerry Petherick, managing director for G4S custodial and detention, said the inmates behind the trouble "showed a callous disregard for the safety of prisoners and staff".

He added: " Our teams have worked tirelessly throughout the night to assess the damage caused, start the process of clearing up and capture any evidence that could be used by West Midlands Police for any subsequent prosecutions."

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