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Concerns raised over prison reform plans after riot at Bedford jail

Published 07/11/2016

Police vehicles outside HMP Bedford (Greg Chappell @crake101)
Police vehicles outside HMP Bedford (Greg Chappell @crake101)

Questions have been raised about the Government's prison reform plans in the wake of a riot which saw up to 200 inmates go on the rampage.

Scores of prisoners flooded the gangways in chaotic scenes at HMP Bedford on Sunday, with the disturbance finally resolved six hours later.

The incident came days after Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced a programme of measures aimed at halting a rising tide of violence across the estate in England and Wales.

It includes a recruitment drive to add 2,500 new prison officers to the frontline by 2018.

But Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, argued the reforms are "all future work".

He said: "We think they will have difficulty recruiting because of the poor salary and terms that new officers are having to face.

"What we are saying is you can't have all that reform if you don't have a structure in place to deal with all the issues in our prisons now.

"They are offering cream tomorrow but what about today?"

An investigation has been launched into the disturbance, which erupted shortly after 5pm on Sunday.

Specialist riot officers were deployed at the category B prison in Bedford town centre, with police cordoning off an area outside and emergency services on stand-by.

Some guards were forced to retreat to a "safe place".

U nverified footage supposedly from inside the facility posted online revealed chaotic scenes with scores of prisoners shouting and bellowing in walkways and gangways.

Former inmate Tyler Johnston, 21, said prisoners took batons, raided safes containing phones and drugs, and locked other prisoners inside cells during the riot.

Speaking outside the jail, he said: "The prisoners were running it last night not the screws. When I was inside I had to break up fights because there wasn't enough staff.

"Bedford Prison is falling apart, there's cockroaches everywhere, the floors peeling off... it's an absolute state. When you put people under that much strain they're going to bite.

"They took batons, raided safes with all the drugs and phones, and merged A and B wings. Boys were getting locked in their own cells."

Mr Johnston said he spent four months inside the jail for dealing drugs and got out in October.

HMP Bedford, which has been on its current site since 1801, holds around 500 inmates, according to a HM Inspectorate of Prisons report published in September.

The watchdog found inmates claimed it was easier to get drugs than clothes or bedsheets at the prison, where standards had deteriorated to "unacceptable levels".

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said on Twitter: "More troubling news concerning our prisons. The Justice Secretary needs to do more urgently to tackle crisis."

A Prison Service spokesman said: "Specially trained prison officers and staff from the emergency services have successfully resolved an incident involving a number of prisoners at HMP Bedford.

"An investigation into this incident will take place. We are absolutely clear that prisoners who behave in this way will be punished and could spend significantly longer behind bars."

There were no injuries to prison staff but two inmates were treated for injuries that were not thought to be serious.

Michael Rolfe, national chair of the POA, said prisoners warned guards they would kick off before being let out of their cells.

He said: "There was not sufficient staff to keep control.

"Prisoners were saying they were going to cause problems if let out yet management still let them out.

"It turned nasty, prisoners started breaking things... staff tried to get them back but it was a no hope situation.

"It (the protest) was volatility over the regime, or lack of regime.

"Bedford has been on the cusp of a major incident for some time now.

"This (Bedford) needs an urgent uplift of staffing and a rethink of how management do business. This could have been more dangerous for prisoners and staff."

Some 220 inmates of the 500 will be moved to other jails, he added.

Bedfordshire Police said three men, aged 39, 37 and 26, have been arrested on suspicion of offences under the Prison Security Act 1992.

Two inmates were taken to hospital - one who became ill and another who suffered minor injuries during the riot. Both returned to prison after treatment.

Press Association

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