Cost-cutting blamed as violent mob wrecks jail

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The Independent Online

A Prison Service investigation will be launched after a “violent, seething mob” of inmates tore apart a jail, amid claims that government cost-cutting was to blame.

Prisoners at HMP Ashwell, near Oakham, in Rutland, Leicestershire, smashed windows, set fires and threw rocks at staff during a 21-hour riot which began in the early hours of yesterday. It is believed 75 per cent of the jail was destroyed by the inmates who stormed the healthcare centre, a workshop, the reception area and a number of accommodation wings. No staff were injured, but two prisoners received medical treatment – one was taken ill during the day and another was treated for cuts.

The Prison Officers Association (POA) called for a public inquiry into the riot and urged the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, pictured, to tackle the wider issue of prisoner classification. The union claimed some inmates at HMP Ashwell had been wrongly downgraded from category B to category C prisoners to ease overcrowding at other sites and to cut costs. “We lay the blame squarely at the door of Jack Straw,” said the POA’s national chairman Colin Moses.

Trouble flared after a prisoner had his privileges withdrawn for being out of his room after hours and disputed the punishment with a staff member.

Specialist prison officers were called in at about 1am and worked until 10.30pm on Saturday to control the situation. The jail perimeter was cordoned off by more than 100 police as about 420 inmates were relocated to other prisons. The Prison Service says it will investigate the circumstances which led to the spree but denied funding and staffing issues were to blame.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “[The investigation] will look at events leading up to the incident, how the incident was managed and what lessons can be learnt.”