Prisoners dispersed after jail riot

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Nearly 150 prisoners were yesterday removed from a high-security jail where prison riot squads fought to control a 12-hour rampage by inmates.

The unrest at Full Sutton prison, near York, was finally quelled yesterday morning when riot squads stormed barricades and seized back control of two wings where inmates had been running amok.

As a police helicopter circled overhead, more than 50 fire officers moved into the jail to extinguish a series of blazes that prisoners had lit during the night. Sources at the jail yesterday described scenes of "widespread devastation".

One officer said: "Corridors have been gutted by fire, they have smashed their windows out, offices have been wrecked and the TV rooms have been smashed up. It will take months to get back to normal."

The trouble, which began at 6pm on Monday when the prisoners were unlocked from cells for evening association, is believed to have started when two troublesome inmates were being segregated by jail staff.

One of the inmates shouted out what is believed to have been a signal to other prisoners to start the trouble. Within minutes the prisoners had taken control of the jail's B and C wings.

There had been tension in the jail for many weeks which may have been linked to a clampdown on the use of drugs. Several seizures have been made and closed-circuit television cameras have reduced opportunities for smuggling by visitors.

Earlier on Monday, staff had told governors that a group of seven ringleaders were seeking to spark trouble in the jail.

John Boddington, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, said: "The prisoners went on a trail of wanton destruction and destroyed everything they could lay their hands on except their own possessions."

Richard Tilt, director general of the Prison Service, praised the skill and courage of staff in regaining control of the jail.

The Prison Service said the damage would cost around pounds 500,000 to repair. The two wings are likely to be uninhabitable for up to three months. Yesterday 146 inmates were being transferred to jails in Manchester, Wakefield, Durham and elsewhere to limit the chance of further trouble.

The transfers will add to the Prison Service's overcrowding problems, with the jail population at a record 60,000 and rising. The damage at Full Sutton will cause the loss of up to 200 places for high-security prisoners.