Blaze at open prison after inmates riot

An open prison was in flames today in a New Year's Day rampage by inmates thought to have been sparked by attempts to breathalyse them to check for contraband alcohol.

Windows were smashed and fires started in a number of buildings at Ford Prison near Arundel, West Sussex, in the early hours of this morning.

It has been claimed only two prison officers and four support staff were on duty at the time to manage a prison population of up to 200 inmates.

Throughout the day, authorities struggled to regain control of the situation.

Mark Freeman, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said alcohol had been a concern at the open prison for some time, with dozens of empty bottles found in recent days.

He added that prisoners turned violent after they refused to be breathalysed.

Mr Freeman likened recent attempts to test inmates for alcohol to "a scene out of Benny Hill", with officers chasing prisoners for days on end.

But thing turned violent overnight when guards suspected some prisoners of seeing in the new year with alcohol.

Mr Freeman said: "In the early hours staff tried to breathalyse a number of prisoners because they suspected they had been drinking which I think we can say with some certainty because of the amount of alcohol found over recent days and weeks.

"A total of 40 bottles of alcohol have been found empty.

"It's been a concern here for a long time about the amount of alcohol prisoners are able to get.

"When the prisoners refused to be breathalysed they became violent along with other prisoners and went on what we call a mutiny, this is a prison mutiny."

He added: "This has been a long time waiting to happen.

"Staff have been running around trying to breathalyse prisoners, it's been reminiscent of the end scenes of The Benny Hill Show, the only thing missing was the music."

It is thought that around 40 inmates took part in the rampage, with those from the prison's B wing taking the lead.

At around midnight, rioters wearing home-made balaclavas to hide their identities, began smashing windows and activating fire alarms.

They then started to set buildings alight.

Five blocks were set ablaze during the morning, with another three on fire by noon.

The buildings destroyed included a mail room, a gym, a snooker room and a pool room with 10 newly-installed pool tables.

Staff were forced to retreat as the violence increased, with riot police and specialist prison officers brought in, in an attempt to regain control.

Throughout the morning plumes of smoke could be seen above the open prison.

Firefighters eventually went in shortly after noon. Scores of prison officers in riot gear escorted two fire engines on to the site.

By 1pm, the authorities had regained control of one of the two wings.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "The fire brigade has been into the prison and the fires have been contained."

He added: "The causes of the disturbance and not yet known and will be subject to an investigation."

But Mr Freeman claimed insufficient staffing levels were partly to blame.

He said: "It's very difficult when you have a very small staff, which they did last night.

"In our view they do not have enough staff, the general policy is that prisons in an open state have less staff but we feel they should have more because they have more access to illegal activities.

"This is what happens when you have the mix of easily available alcohol and the wrong type of prisoner."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "No-one wins from a prison disturbance.

"It endangers prisoners and staff, worries families and ends in a high cost the Prison Service can ill afford.

"Once control is fully re-established, a review is called for to determine how and why this happened.

"Events of this kind are very rare in open prisons, which serve an important purpose to rehabilitate people who have served ever lengthening sentences."

News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone