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Prison staff protest over after injunction threat dropped

It follows ‘meaningful engagement’ with Prisons Minister Rory Stewart.

A protest by prison staff over violence and safety concerns has been called off by their union after the Government agreed to drop the threat of court action.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, were told to return to work by 1pm following an agreement with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

General Secretary Steve Gillan said he was “confident a deal is a deal” after the prison service “backed down” over seeking an injunction against the walk-out.

The union will meet with the prison service on Monday, he said.

POA members were accused of “unlawful” action after they began demonstrating outside prisons in England and Wales from 7am over “unprecedented” levels of violence.

The action had knock-on effects on court cases, with some defendants in custody unable to be transported to hearings.

Mr Gillan told the Press Association: “I’m pleased with the outcome. Well, in actual fact I’m saddened we had to do it in the first place.

“But now we hope for meaningful, constructive dialogue commencing on Monday.”

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, the POA said, which Mr Stewart called “unlawful” and “irresponsible” earlier on Friday.

The walk-out was triggered by a damning report which warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford, the union said.

Around 50 officers were outside the prison on Friday, with members recalling how one colleague’s arm was broken with a pool cue while another had his head stamped on.

Richard Gilbert, who has been an officer for 14 years at the facility, said he was suffering with PTSD and depression after a group of inmates repeatedly kicked him in the head.

Those demonstrating have received a letter signed by governor Helen Clayton-Hoar ordering them to return to work and threatening disciplinary procedures and docked pay packets.

On Thursday, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

Inmates have effectively taken control at the violent, overcrowded and vermin-infested jail, his report said.

The HMP Bedford report is the fourth urgent notification the Government has issued since the scheme was introduced less than a year ago.

The process has also been triggered in relation to HMP Nottingham, HMP Exeter and HMP Birmingham.

Standards across the prison estate have come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid a slew of highly critical reports and a deterioration in safety measures.

In his annual report for 2017/18, Mr Clarke warned staff and inmates have become “inured” to conditions unacceptable in 21st-century Britain.

He highlighted how thousands of inmates are living in squalid and overcrowded cells, locked up for nearly 24 hours a day.

Official figures published in July revealed that assault and self-harm incidents were continuing to rise, both reaching new record highs.

Authorities are also faced with a major task to stem the flow of contraband, with discoveries of drugs, mobile phones and Sim cards on the increase.

Overcrowding remains a key issue, with the prison population forecast by the MoJ to “steadily” rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The MoJ said it doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers on Thursday.

It is also investing £40 million to improve the estate and tackle the drugs problem, with 3,500 new officers to help ease the burden.

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